NCU Director of Nursing
Programs Brings Transformation to School of Health Sciences

Written by Judy Tierney

Dr. Judy Akin Palmer welcomes her nursing students with an inspirational video she created to help them prepare for and visualize their educational success. The film, which reminds students to balance their studies with self-care, features her dog Kenny and the collection of butterflies she raises.

Dr. Judy Akin Palmer Dr. Judy Akin Palmer

Palmer’s fascination with butterflies began at age 4 in Montessori school, surrounded by the colorful creatures fluttering through the playground. Today, Yellow Sulphur, Swallowtail, Monarch and a variety of other butterfly species brighten up her own yard in the sanctuary she has created for them. Their metamorphosis – from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly – holds a special meaning for Palmer who sees the process as mirroring life experiences.

“I often tell students to imagine themselves as caterpillars working through the challenging elements before finding their quiet place to work on their final project, which will be their chrysalis,” explains Palmer. “We all go through change, and I want students to feel encouraged and excited about the change that will happen through hard work and perseverance.”

The program director of nursing for NCU’s School of Health Sciences exhibits a unique passion for transformation. This unbridled enthusiasm, along with an impressive resume of degrees, leadership positions and titles, including registered nurse, nurse educator, PhD, and author, is no doubt why she was tapped to help lead the School’s continuing evolution.

With guidance from Dean Dr. Laurie Shanderson, Palmer is responsible for all aspects of the School’s nursing program including curriculum, faculty development, students and the accreditation process. Late last year, the School launched its Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) with a specialization in management and organizational leadership and the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) in executive leadership. According to a recent article in U.S. News and World Report, more nursing disciplines are requiring these advanced degrees, and NCU’s programs are specifically designed to prepare degree candidates for leadership roles in this dynamic field.

“We all go through change, and I want students to feel encouraged and excited about the change that will happen through hard work and perseverance.”

—Dr. Judy Akin Palmer

“Both programs are built on a curriculum that aligns with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing Essentials and the American Organization of Nurse Executives Competencies,” says Palmer. “Students will gain skills in organizational and systems leadership, health policy and advocacy, healthcare technologies and other areas. We’re confident our MSN graduates will be well positioned for roles such as clinical manager, director of nursing, or health service manager, while DNP graduates will be ready for jobs including nurse administrator, chief nursing officer, executive director, president or vice president of nursing.”

  • Dr. Judy Akin Palmer's Butterflies

  • Dr. Judy Akin Palmer's Butterflies

  • Dr. Judy Akin Palmer's Butterflies

  • Dr. Judy Akin Palmer's Butterflies


In addition, the latest trends and topics are integrated into the nursing coursework and into the School’s interprofessional education platform, which emphasizes student engagement and collaboration across disciplines. One of the most exciting things about starting from scratch, Palmer says, is that the team can ensure the program is current and aligned with the latest concepts.

Palmer’s entire career has been focused on helping grow things from the beginning. Through a personal experience with cancer, she identified a gap in the education that nurses received regarding reconstructive surgery. She turned her focus on improving the educational guidelines, served on the executive board of the American Society of Plastic Surgical Nurses and co-authored the first Scope and Standards of Practice. Her efforts were instrumental in the effort to ensure the group received recognition as a nursing specialty by the American Nursing Association, Congress of Nursing and House of Delegates.

Being able to speak about and give presentations on nursing and patient education on the national and international stages fueled Palmer’s passion for education. After earning her PhD in postsecondary and adult education at Capella University, she returned to her alma mater as the founding lead to guide and direct the major growth of the first PhD in nursing education program.

It was Palmer’s love for beginning and building new programs that brought her to NCU. “I immediately connected with NCU’s vision, mission and values, especially the University’s one-to-one learning model,” she says. “NCU has a deep understanding of the educational challenges and is constantly seeking ways to meet the needs of students who are seeking flexibility and life-work balance.”

Although the new programs launched only a few months ago, Palmer and her team are already looking at future enhancements. Palmer’s focus is on continual quality improvements for courses and access to the latest technologies, including virtual communities, animation tools, and informatics. Ensuring student and faculty engagement are also key priorities.

“I see tremendous possibilities for our nursing program and the School of Health Sciences overall,” concludes Palmer. “After all of the hard work from our entire team, I believe the program is going to emerge from the chrysalis with beautiful wings that will take us to exciting new places we can’t even imagine.”

For more information on NCU’s Nursing degree programs, please visit