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May 2010 Issue
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Assistant professor Debora Dole, PhD, would never encourage anyone to drop out of high school, even though it’s how she began her own academic journey
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From High School Dropout to PhD

By Angela Koenig
Published May 2010

CINCINNATI—Assistant professor Debora Dole, PhD, would never encourage anyone to drop out of high school, even though it’s how she began her own academic journey.

"I was trying to find my way,” says Dole, who completed her PhD in nursing in December 2009 but chose to be officially "hooded” at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Nursing ceremony in June 2010.  

It’s a momentous event that to most would have seemed pretty far-fetched in 1976, when Dole, then a  senior in high school, decided to quit school and seek adventure outside of academics.  

"All things are possible. You have to have a dream but then also turn it into a reality,” she says of the path that led her out of school but shortly thereafter into the Air Force, where she worked first as an avionics technician and later as administrative assistant for an air rescue and recovery unit.

"I quickly realized that in order to have any self-sustaining ability, I needed to at least get my GED.”  

Once that was accomplished—married and with a child—she had another academic revelation:  that it was going to take two incomes to provide for her family the way she wanted and she needed a profession that would support a family. Motivated by her own experience as a mother, she chose nursing, and at 25, enrolled in a local program. She eventually transferred to the Medical University of South Carolina where she earned her BSN in 1989 and went directly into the master’s program, graduating in 1992.

Dole says that during her clinical courses in labor and delivery she recognized the desire to become a nurse-midwife. Earning her MSN provided her with the skills to open and operate the first independent nurse-midwifery practice in Butler County, Ohio, in 1993. Dole continued to manage her own practice in a field she loved and also become a nursing educator at UC in 2001, teaching in the nurse-midwifery concentration of the master’s program.

These achievements  would seem like enough of a giant leap for someone who dropped out of high school, but Dole says she was riding in a car one day with Susan Elek, PhD—the former director of the nursing college’s doctoral program—when Elek challenged her to continue her education.  

"Susan said it will make you better midwife, but it did more than that. ... It made me a better midwife, a better teacher and a better person.”

Dole’s message to those who may struggle:  "The possibilities are endless. It is important to surround yourself with people who believe in you.  Dream it, believe it and do it!”

Dole the first of her five siblings to graduate from college—in a family where neither of her parents had a high school diploma. 


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