Alumni Spotlights

Michael Ackerman, ’80: Back at Home at NU

December 8, 2015 by Lisa M. McMahon, MA'09

Dr. Michael Ackerman, ’80, is back at Niagara. And he couldn’t be happier about it.

“It’s always had a place in my heart,” he says. “It’s a special place, and there’s something very special about being a Niagara nurse. You can’t describe it, but you know it. And that’s what I want to bring back.”

As associate director of the School of Nursing, Dr. Ackerman, a doctorally prepared nurse practitioner, will be able to do just that. He plans to draw on his own Niagara experience, his 30-plus year career in nursing, and his research and consulting background to lay a foundation for structure and process that will graduate students who are well-rounded, clinically relevant practitioners.

Growing up in a working class family in the City of Tonawanda, N.Y., Dr. Ackerman knew he wanted to pursue a career in the helping professions. While volunteering as a candy striper at DeGraff Memorial Hospital, he saw the day-to-day responsibilities of both nurses and physicians, and says he made a “deliberate choice” to become a nurse because he preferred the work they did.

At the recommendation of Mary Lorich, a family friend and former professor in NU’s College of Nursing, Dr. Ackerman enrolled at Niagara, where he found a nurturing faculty that “made it comfortable to be a male” in the nursing program. Classes in the liberal arts taught him to think, he says, and role models like Virginia Manning, his junior clinical instructor, prepared him to be excellent in his chosen field.

After graduation, Dr. Ackerman returned to DeGraff to begin his career in critical care nursing. He then joined the VA in Buffalo, where he spent 10 years in positions including nurse manager and clinical nurse specialist.

At the same time, he continued his education, earning his MSN in critical care nursing and his doctorate in nursing science from the University of Buffalo.

“I always had in mind that my terminal degree was going to be a doctorate,” he says. “I enjoyed science, and I enjoyed research.”

He also enjoyed teaching. He taught at NU while pursuing his MSN, and at UB once he had earned his DNS. All while continuing to work as a practicing nurse. “I had the best of both worlds,” he says.

In 1993, he was recruited to the University of Rochester to begin a joint faculty/clinical role. Two years later, he took a position as a senior nurse practitioner in critical care and cardiac surgery at Strong Memorial Hospital, University of Rochester Medical Center. He completed post-master’s training as an acute care nurse practitioner at the University of Rochester that same year. In 2006, he launched the Margaret D. Sovie Center for Advanced Practice, which became a national organizational model for nurse practitioners and physicians’ assistants. For the next seven years, he served as the center’s director and continued his nursing practice.

Dr. Ackerman then returned to Buffalo, where he held several senior leadership roles with local hospitals.

In December 2014, after having spent several years presenting at conferences both nationally and internationally, Dr. Ackerman decided to take a “pause” from his nursing career to form his own consulting company. He also founded the “Stop the Silence in Healthcare” campaign, prompted by his experience as a Crucial Conversations trainer and his firsthand observations of situations where patients have been put at risk or nurses have been mistreated by their colleagues, and no one has spoken out. “It’s a topic I’m very passionate about,” he says.

Although he wasn’t looking for a new job opportunity, when the position of associate director of Niagara’s School of Nursing became available, he decided to pursue it because of his love for the program and his respect for Dr. Fran Crosby, ’67, the school’s director. He was offered the job in September.

“I’m at the point now where I want to give back and help others,” he says. “There’s no greater feeling than knowing that you can make a difference. As I progressed in my career, each job I’ve taken has expanded my ability to influence. (In this position), I can influence the profession by graduating excellent students.”