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2016 Distinguished Alumna Continues Legacy of Nursing Excellence

Nancy Godfrey, RN, PhD, comes from a family steeped in nursing. She is the granddaughter of a public health nursing pioneer, Lucile Williams Brown, and the daughter and niece of two national leaders of mother and child nursing, her mother Athleen Brown Godfrey, and aunt Lillian Brown Williams, who served as the director of nursing at the National Children's Medical Center in Washington DC for many years.

Nancy was nominated for the 2016 Distinguished Alumna award not only by her own contemporaries, but also by colleagues and friends of her late mother, Athleen (1934-2013), a beloved and influential University of Utah professor. This award, given to Nancy and honoring her mother Athleen, tells a larger story about a remarkable nursing family.


Athleen received both a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing and a Masters in Child Nursing from the University of Utah. In 1983, she was appointed by Governor Norman Bangerter to chair Utah’s first Interagency Coordinating Council to implement statewide Early Intervention services to infants and young children with disabilities and their families. “Athleen was a guiding force in the movement to prepare and credential early intervention personnel. Her work continues to influence health policy and assist families today and she will always be held in great esteem,” says, Linda K. Amos, EdD, FAAN, Former Dean and Professor Emerita at the University of Utah College of Nursing.

Athleen also served on the faculty of the University of Utah College of Nursing for several years, including directing the University’s first interdisciplinary masters education program for nursing and special education students. She retired from the University of Utah College Of Nursing in June, 2000, as a clinical Professor Emerita.

Academic Excellence

Nancy graduated with honors from the University of Utah’s College of Nursing with her baccalaureate degree, and began her professional career in hospital nursing in Utah. Her true passion was for international care, however, and Nancy soon began working in camps for Ethiopian refugees in Eastern Sudan and Cambodian refugees in Eastern Thailand.

A growing interest in population health, the potential impact of evolving health care interventions, and a commitment of data-driven decision making led Nancy to graduate school. She was awarded a scholarship and earned a Master of Science degree in Community Health in Developing Countries at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, where she first specialized in health policy, planning and evaluation.

Graduating top of her class, she accepted a position as a Research Fellow at the London School both to join the teaching faculty and carry out research on international policies for the health care of refugees, with case studies in Mexico, Pakistan and Somalia. Capitalizing on this opportunity to bring public policy perspectives to her work, Nancy earned a Doctor of Philosophy from the London School of Economics.

Committed to Caring

nancyAfter completing her doctorate, Nancy continued to work in low-income countries, consulting on health policy and systems, including working as an advisor to the newly-liberated Eritrea’s Minister of Health, and leading evaluations of internationally funded programs in Bangladesh and Zambia.

“Her life's work is one that few could imagine and, she has worked in places few dare to visit let alone live and labor to make a difference,” says Eileen Engh, MSN, NE-BC, CPN, a friend and former classmate of Nancy’s. “She has addressed some of the most serious plagues and crises facing the world today: trafficking in persons, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and most recently Ebola. A good day in Nancy's world is when mandatory hand washing compliance results in bringing an end to the outbreak".

In 2001, Nancy joined the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), where she has worked as a Foreign Service Officer for the past 15 years. Nancy serves primarily as a director of U.S. government assistance portfolios for improved health. To date, she has led USAID’s health programs in India, Rwanda, Russia, Sierra Leone and Ukraine to contribute to four goals for improving global health: ending preventable mother and child deaths, creating an AIDS-free generation, preventing, identifying and treating infectious disease threats such as ebola, influenza and tuberculosis, and assuring universal health coverage through the organization and financing of health systems. Currently, she serves as the director of strategy, budget, planning and reporting for our stabilization, economic stability and good governance assistance programs in Iraq.

“It is difficult to overestimate the influence that Nancy has had on world health,” says Joyceen S. Boyle, RN, PhD, MPH, FAAN, Adjunct Professor in the College of Nursing and a former Distinguished Alumna. “She is a very unique person who has made a tremendous contribution in making the world a better place for all of us to live in and enjoy. She is a tremendous credit to the College of Nursing.”

The 2016 Distinguished Alumni Award Program and Bullough Endowed Lecture was held at the College of Nursing on Nov. 3, 2016.