Dr. Vivienne Pierce McDaniel is a proponent of community colleges, especially Thomas Nelson, where she earned her nursing degree.
Dr. Vivienne Pierce McDaniel’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion is not by accident. Her dedication stems from her experiences, including an important one at Thomas Nelson Community College.
“To go somewhere and see someone who looks like you, your eyes light up,” she said of the students, faculty, and staff at the College.
However, she quickly noticed that wasn’t the case in her chosen profession.
“Nursing doesn’t mirror the population that we serve, at all, which is why I do all of the DEI work that I do,” she said. “When I go to these hospitals around here, I don’t see many Black nurses. During COVID, whenever they were showing these groups of people, there were very few images of people of color.”
She’s doing her part to change that. She is the diversity ambassador in James Madison University's nursing department and serves as a department consultant. She is chair of the Virginia Nurses Association Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council. An adjunct professor at Aspen (Colo.) University School of Nursing, she also does staff development for a home health agency and is a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant. The Chesterfield resident also mentors students.
“One of my initiatives is to increase the number of nurses from underrepresented or marginalized populations,” she said. “That, and dismantling racism period, are my two DEI goals.”
McDaniel, who earned an associate degree in nursing from Thomas Nelson in 2006 when she was in her early 40s, has always worked in the medical field. As a teenager, she was a nurse aid, then a medical assistant, and a practice administrator, working for some of the best doctors and surgeons in Washington, D.C. She also owned a billing company in D.C. for several years and worked for Riverside Health System as the lead nurse aid instructor in Williamsburg.
Her experiences led to her becoming a mentor for classmates while at the College.
“A lot of students were relying on me to help them because I used to teach medical assistants,” she said. “They kind of looked up to me to help them, mostly the other black students because there weren’t a lot of us.”
A stroke of luck that she ended up at Thomas Nelson. While working at Eastern State Hospital, she encountered visiting representatives from the College who were recruiting nurses. She knew about the College as several friends began their educational journey there, but she hadn’t thought about attending until hearing the recruiting pitch.
“That’s what got me to Thomas Nelson, because of recruiters coming to Eastern State,” she said.
Despite it being more than 15 years ago when she started, she remembers her time at the College well. She fondly remembers her professors, the people who worked there, her classmates, the experience of being on a college campus.
“It was a great time,” she said. “I don’t know if I can single out one thing that I loved (best) about the College, just everything.”
One of her former teachers, Mary Katherine Howard, remembers her well and said McDaniel's focus on diversity, equity and inclusion is an ideal fit.
“I can see her in that role,” Howard said. “She was a mature student when she came through. She had other work experiences, and nursing was just something she added to her already pretty impressive resume.”
Howard isn’t surprised at McDaniel’s success.
“She was a really good student to have. We enjoyed her in the program,” Howard said. “I knew she would go on to do a lot of great things, as do many of our students.”
McDaniel, who was honored in 2020 by the Virginia Nurses Foundation in part for her work on the Virginia Governor’s COVID-19 long-term care task force, isn’t shy about crediting Thomas Nelson. She experienced firsthand the value of a community college education.
“It’s a great foundation and entry into your educational journey,” she said. “I just wish more people would take advantage of it.”
She believes in the College so much she often recommends it to people, one as recently as a few months ago. She also sponsored a student to get her into Thomas Nelson, and now that student is a nurse practitioner.
While she credits the support of her husband as much as anything, she also points out she wouldn’t be where she is without the College.
“Definitely not, without a question,” she said. “Without Thomas Nelson, there’s no way.”