UMass Lowell nursing alum finds calling, gives back
Just as she was about to begin her final year of nursing school, Donna Manning decided to drop out.
Without money to pay for tuition, she figured it was her only choice.
“I was commuting from my home in Methuen to college in Lowell and to work in a hospital in Boston. When my car broke down, I didn’t have any money coming in or any way to get to my classes,” Manning recalls. “I decided to drop out of school and come back in a year.”
When she arrived at the registrar’s office to withdraw, a woman at the front desk gave her advice that she’ll never forget: “They never come back. Don’t withdraw. Figure out a way.”
And Manning did find a way. She asked her parents, who both worked and ran a farm in Methuen, for help getting another car. She was able to keep working and pay her tuition bill.
“I wish I knew the name of that woman, because she changed the course of my life,” says Manning ’85, ’91, who received an honorary doctorate degree in 2011.
Now that Manning is in a position to change the lives of others, she couldn’t be happier to pay it forward. Donna Manning and her husband, Rob Manning ’84, ’11 (H), who is executive chairman of MFS Investment Management and chairman of the UMass Board of Trustees, are major supporters of UMass Lowell.
“My education at UMass Lowell instilled the importance of ongoing education and lifelong learning,” she says. “We are both inspired to give to keep public education affordable and give students the tools they need to thrive.”
As an oncology nurse for nearly 30 years, Donna Manning has seen the best and the worst in health care. From her early years caring for cancer patients after radical surgeries at University Hospital in Boston to her more recent experiences working on groundbreaking clinical trials at Boston Medical Center, she has found a career that she loves.
“At first, oncology was scary,” says Manning. “Over the years, I found that I could really help people by walking them through their treatments and being there for them every step of the way. It is a very rewarding, life-changing career.”
Early in her profession, Manning considered pursuing nursing management. She earned an MBA at UMass Lowell to prepare. But when her hospital merged with Boston City Hospital to become Boston Medical Center, her outpatient chemotherapy clinic began to take care of more patients whose medical conditions were complicated by their living situations.
“Some people lived in poverty, some didn’t speak English and some were homeless,” she says. “It was eye-opening for me to understand their struggles and find ways we could help.”
The hospital developed interpreter, transportation and follow-up appointment programs that made a big difference to those they served.
“I learned that we needed a very committed multidisciplinary team approach to get these patients successfully through treatment.” It was this approach to patient care and the shared mission among her colleagues that stopped Manning from leaving direct patient care.
“It was how I found my calling,” she says. “I’ve been at Boston Medical Center for over 30 years, and am very proud of our mission and our goal of exceptional care without exception.”
Recalling her nursing education, she says that she understood that other life factors affect patient care.
“When faculty in the Solomont School of Nursing taught us to treat the whole patient, both their physical and psychosocial needs, I didn’t realize how overwhelming those needs could be,” says Manning. “Welcoming that challenge to care for these patients has made me a better person. That is why I decided to stay as an oncology nurse at BMC and why I want to inspire others to find their passion at UMass Lowell.”
Health Care and Business Connections
Manning and her husband Rob, who earned a business degree from UML and for whom the university’s business school is named, have funded endowed scholarships for students majoring in nursing and business, a global health initiative for nursing students, nursing simulation labs, teaching excellence awards and donations to multiple capital projects.
Their most recent contribution established the Donna Manning Endowed Faculty Chair for Nursing position.
“We are extremely grateful for the Mannings’ generosity for funding this named chair,” says Karen Devereaux Melillo, interim dean of the Solomont School of Nursing. “This will allow us to bring a notable researcher to the Solomont School of Nursing who will make a significant research contribution to nursing, health promotion and health care improvement, and mentor nursing faculty in the process.”
Manning is grateful for an education that allowed her to pursue her passion to help others.
“My friends and I who attended the UMass Lowell nursing program have all had very rewarding careers and appreciate how well-prepared we were upon graduating – and with little or no debt,” says Manning. “My friends give back with their time by mentoring UML nursing students. We all do what we can to give back, and I’m fortunate to be able to make this gift for the endowed nursing chair.”
The clinic at Boston Medical Center where Manning works was recently named for Susan and Alan Solomont ’77. In April 2017, the School of Nursing was named in honor of the Solomonts in recognition of their generosity to the university and nursing programs.
Says Manning: “Alan is another UML nursing graduate with passion and now my clinic and the Solomont School of Nursing bear his name. How perfect!”