Dr. Yvonne Eaves, UNCG School of Nursing associate dean

Dr. Yvonne Eaves described one of her instructors in nursing school as being like a “military sergeant” who stood over 6 feet tall and scared all her students.

Another instructor was known for keeping her students on their toes by peppering them with questions during their clinical rotations. Eaves tried avoiding the instructor for as long as possible.

Eaves has plenty of stories from her three years at the Saint Francis Medical Center College of Nursing in the late 1970s and early ‘80s. She was the only Black student at the time and a Baptist from Chicago attending a strict Catholic nursing school run by nuns in Peoria, Ill.

Still, Eaves said she never felt discriminated against at Saint Francis and instead appreciated the support she received from its faculty and the lessons they taught her.

“Even though they had a lot of rules and it was very structured, there was always a sense of caring and compassion,” Eaves said. “And I think that really shaped the kind of nurse that I became, and there are a few principles that I learned back then that stick with me today.”

Eaves’ distinguished nursing career has been shaped over the years by nuns, a world-renowned nurse theorist, and her collaboration with physicians at academic teaching hospitals. She now hopes to share her expertise with students and her new colleagues at UNC Greensboro.

Eaves joined the School of Nursing this fall as a professor and the associate dean for academic programs. She works closely with School of Nursing Dean Debra J. Barksdale to provide leadership for innovative academic programs and curricular development.

Her new role gave her the opportunity to reunite with Barksdale.


As a faculty member at UNC Chapel Hill in the 1990s, Eaves was asked by her department chair to speak on the phone with a promising PhD candidate. The candidate was Barksdale.

Eaves ended up encouraging Barksdale to go to the University of Michigan for her PhD because of the financial support that the school offered its graduate students. However, Barksdale and Eaves have worked together as faculty members at UNC Chapel Hill and now UNCG.

“I wanted to work in a place where I could make a difference and put my skills to best use but in an environment that was not such a rat race,” Eaves said of her decision to join the School of Nursing. “Even though I knew Debra, we had not kept in contact over the years, but I felt like she was someone I could work well with.

“And when I read the job description, I felt like I had the experience to carry out the position. I’ve always wanted to come back to North Carolina.”

Eaves oversaw Kennesaw State University’s WellStar School of Nursing as its director for four years. During her tenure, she significantly increased the school’s undergraduate student enrollment and advocated for diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“I am delighted to welcome Dr. Eaves as the associate dean for academic programs. Our paths keep intersecting, and we have shared paths now at three institutions, the University of Michigan, UNC Chapel Hill, and now as colleagues at UNC Greensboro,” Barksdale said. “We even shared Nola Pender, who was a member of my dissertation committee and retired the day after I defended. Dr. Eaves is a quiet, capable, and wise soul.”


Eaves said she initially wanted to be a teacher like her mother and nearly all her aunts. However, she decided to go into nursing after discovering there was already an abundance of teachers in Illinois, where she was raised.

Nursing seemed like a good fit for her since she enjoyed learning about the human body and reading stories about nurses as a kid growing up in a Chicago suburb.

When Eaves was old enough to walk by herself to the grocery store, she often bought books focused on health and wellness. She also read a popular series of novels that introduced girls to nursing. The series follows a character named Sue Barton as she works as a nurse.

As a high school senior, Eaves worked at a hospital as part of a work-study program. She was a ward clerk, later referred to as a unit secretary, running errands around the hospital and transcribing doctors’ orders because they were handwritten at the time.

“I learned a lot because I was doing things with the patient’s chart all the time to transcribe the doctor’s orders, to file away a lab report or other types of report, and just seeing what nurses were doing,” Eaves said.

After graduating from Saint Francis, she worked as a registered nurse in an organ transplant unit, treating patients who needed kidney, liver, and bone marrow transplants.


Eaves eventually went back to school to earn a bachelor of science in nursing at another Catholic university and then a master of science in nursing (MSN). Her MSN advisor at Northern Illinois University was nursing theorist Nola Pender, who was known for developing the Health Promotion Model.

Eaves took a class with Pender during her second year in the MSN program.

“After a few weeks in the course, she kind of cornered me one day and started talking to me about getting a doctorate,” Eaves said. “And I was like ‘No, I’ve been in school way too long. I’ve got loans to pay off. I’m going to finish this master’s and get me a job as a clinical nurse specialist.”

Pender was relentless, though. She continued talking to Eaves about the need for her to earn a PhD, telling her that there weren’t enough minority nurses with doctorates.

Undeterred, as Pender traveled to universities across the country, she collected information about their PhD programs to give to Eaves. She then told a recruiter at Michigan about Eaves.

Eaves finally took Pender’s advice and enrolled in the PhD program at Michigan’s School of Nursing. When she arrived to start class, she was surprised to learn that Pender had been hired as a new associate dean at Michigan.

“I don’t think I’d have a PhD, and I don’t think I’d have an academic career if Nola Pender had not pushed me to get my doctorate,” Eaves said.

Story and photography by Alex Abrams, School of Nursing