UW Nursing program honors Salazar

Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter Islander Mary Salazar was awarded the SON’s Distinguished Alumni Award at the University of Washington’s annual 2007 Nursing Leadership Awards Banquet. -
Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter Islander Mary Salazar was awarded the SON’s Distinguished Alumni Award at the University of Washington’s annual 2007 Nursing Leadership Awards Banquet.
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Mary Salazar is a household name in the field of occupational health. As a professor at the University of Washington’s School of Nursing (SON), Salazar is nationally and internationally known for her research and teaching in the area of occupational safety and health.

Her dedication to teaching and research has not gone unnoticed. This past May, the Mercer Island resident was awarded the SON’s Distinguished Alumni Award at the school’s annual 2007 Nursing Leadership Awards Banquet.

“When you consider what a wonderful school we have and how many students have emerged from this school, to have that recognition is really a great honor,” said a humbled Salazar. “I am so fortunate to be a member of this faculty and this school of nursing. It is this position and the people that I have worked with that have provided me with the opportunity to do the things I have done, which has contributed to receiving this award.”

The SON honors outstanding nurses, nurse leaders and volunteers in the community who have advanced the nursing through their exemplary leadership and commitment to health care. Salazar was one of four alumni recognized by the school for their leadership and dedication in the nursing field.

“I think she has had such success because everyone can recognize that Mary works for the greater good,” said colleague Debbie Ward. “She is truly selfless. The goodness of her pursuits wins over anyone with a heart for bettering the world.”

Salazar, who grew up in Michigan, started her career in a diploma program after graduating from high school. She became a registered nurse at 21. She married a year later and left the field soon after to raise a family.

However, Salazar always had a desire to go back to school and earn her bachelor’s degree in nursing. Once her children were old enough, she got the opportunity to fulfill her dream; however, accomplishing that dream did not come easy.

“I had to start all over,” Salazar said. “I had to take all the classes I had already taken in my diploma program in order to get my bachelor’s degree, so to do it in my mid-30s, it was a little difficult.”

At 34, she enrolled at California State University in Hayward. Shortly after moving to Seattle, she transferred to the UW’s nursing program.

Salazar earned her Bachelor of Science of Nursing degree in 1982. Thereafter she pursued her master’s degree in occupational health nursing, and then in 1991 she received her doctoral degree from Seattle University.

While pursuing her education, Salazar worked as a research and teaching assistant at the SON. In 1986, she joined the UW faculty as a lecturer in the Department of Psychosocial and Community Health.

“Her teaching methods are nurturing, loving, supporting and guiding, and she really is just brilliant,” said Salazar’s former student, Karen Bowman, who now has her own occupational-health company. “She’s just absolutely the most compassionate and caring [person] I have ever known, and you can see that she really does love what she does.”

In 1989, Salazar was named the SON’s Director of the Occupational and Environmental Health Nursing (OEHN) Program, a position she held until 2003.

“The field of occupational health and safety is so exciting,” Salazar said. “I didn’t know much about it before I got into it, but I’ve learned that this field focuses on determining the causes of health and safety problems and then developing programs and policies that protect people from being hurt on the job.”

Salazar’s research primarily focused on the behavior and protection of health in the working population. She was particularly interested in vulnerable workers, and her research eventually focused on migrant workers in the Yakima Valley.

Eight years ago, Salazar and her colleague, Dr. Matthew Keifer, developed a proposal to study orchard workers in the Yakima Valley — most being of Hispanic descent. They found that these workers were exposed to multiple health and safety risks in the course of their work and — in some of the more extreme cases — even death. According to Salazar, orchards are one of the leading agricultural industries in the state of Washington, and without the proper precautions workers are prone to accidents.

In her research, Salazar noted that supervisors were ultimately responsible for the health and safety of their workers and that they need to provide an environment that protects these workers.

She emphasized that education is one of the keys to maximizing these workers’ health. “Part of the issue is that a lot of our migrant and immigrant workers don’t know what rights they have or what’s available to them, and oftentimes the system does not that responds to their unique needs.”

Today, the OEHN program is nationally recognized as one of only 16 programs that are funded by the National Institution for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Under Salazar’s leadership, the OEHN program has provided the Pacific Northwest with some of the most well-educated nurses in environmental health.

“She has advanced the Occupational Health program to one that is highly respected around the world,” said Professor Karen Schepp, a friend and colleague in the Department of Psychosocial and Community Health.

“She has mentored scholars from other countries who are eager to learn about the occupational health and safety. The program that she has taken leadership on building is now used as a model for other programs throughout the United States and internationally.”

Now 64, Salazar is looking toward retirement and dedicating more of her time to her family. “It’s hard to leave my job because it’s a job that I really love. Over the years, it has given me so much satisfaction and fulfillment, but now I would like to spend more time with my grandkids and my husband,” she said.

Salazar lives with her husband of 42 years and has three children who are all married. She also has five grandchildren. The family moved to Washington in 1980 and has lived on Mercer Island ever since.

“Mary is just one of those people who embody absolute loveliness and grace,” said Autumn Parramore, SON’s Events and Annual Giving Coordinator. “She is utterly one of the loveliest women I have ever worked with, and we hate to see her go.”

Anna Park is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communications.

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