Dawson Takes Student Health Care to a Higher Level
By Bruce Gerson
Students with special needs receive special care from Diane Dawson.
Dawson, a 24-year veteran at University Health Services, has been CMU’s comprehensive care and nurse manager for the past decade. She works with students who have “higher level” health care needs, from chronic medical issues like diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and thyroid disorders to mental health concerns.
Dawson works with about 240 students each year. She meets with each of them individually to create a plan of care and develops and adjusts the plan as needed. She meets with some students weekly to help them meet the various challenges they face.
“I love working with the students. You become close to a lot of them,” she said. “It’s gratifying to see them progress and to see them blossom into these wonderful young adults with great ideas and being productive members of society. They become way more successful than me and that’s great. You always wish better for those you care about.”
Advocating for “her kids,” Dawson often works in close collaboration with the Division of Student Affairs, the Office of Disability Resources, Counseling and Psychological Services, academic advisers, deans, professors, department heads, community agencies, and parents as HIPPA rules allow.
“Some of the parents say I’m their new best friend. We work well together,” she said.
Dawson’s biggest challenge is finding enough time during the day to dedicate to her students’ needs. She said she often takes her work home with her and responds to students during the evening.
“You never know what the need will be. It keeps you on your toes and it keeps me excited to come to work every day,” she said. “Sometimes they just need to talk, and that’s fine, too.”
“Sometimes they just need to talk, and that’s fine, too.”
Dawson earned nursing degrees from St. Francis College and Mercy Hospital, and a master’s degree in public management at the Heinz College. After years as an emergency room nurse, she joined CMU in 1994 and soon became a nursing supervisor. Following stints as clinical director for MedExpress in Pennsylvania and director of Health Services at Chatham University, she was lured back to CMU in 2011 to take on the hew comprehensive care role.
During her time at CMU, Dawson said she has “weathered many storms,” from SARS and the Bird Flu, to spikes in the seasonal flu and the recent coronavirus situation. In early February, after the university asked anyone who had traveled to China within the last 14 days to self-isolate as a precaution, Dawson helped several graduate students in their off-campus residences.
“I delivered thermometers so they could monitor their temperature daily, and I called them every day to see if they needed anything, medically or academically. We helped them get their school work and I helped them connect with food delivery services at Target and Whole Foods. Thankfully, they’re all back to school now,” she said.
Dawson said she loves working for Beth Kotarski, executive director of UHS, and calls the administrative staff and professional staff of 10 nurses, a medical assistant, four nurse practitioners, a physician assistant and a full-time physician “phenomenal.”
“They deeply care about the students. That’s why you see a lot of long-term employees here,” she said. “Beth gives me many roles to play and challenges me. We have walking meetings at lunch time.”
Outside of CMU, Dawson is very active in several social service and health care organizations. She’s on the advisory board for the Pittsburgh Public Schools’ Health Tech program and is a member of the board of directors for the Brashear Association, which works with underserved individuals in the South Side and Hilltop communities with economic, social, educational and employment needs. She is on the board of Glade Run Lutheran Services. They provide care for children, adults and families through programs that include help with autism, mental health, education, and unique therapeutic offerings. She also is president of the Mid-Atlantic College Health Association and is heavily involved with the national organization (American College Health Association) as well.
In her spare time, Dawson is a health enthusiast and goes to the gym four to five times per week. She spends time on the weekends with her two granddaughters, Keira and Felicity.
Dawson’s office is decorated with gifts from her students in appreciation of the time and care she’s given them.
“I still communicate with some of them on a regular basis after they graduate. They’re like my kids,” she said.
Have a suggestion for Staff Spotlight? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.