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This NC alumna is helping reshape NY State health care

Crossing the Niagara College graduation stage in 1989 with her Health Sciences diploma, Dorothy Urschel just wanted a career in which she could help improve as many lives as possible.

She got her wish, and much more.

Today the president and CEO of a major New York State health care system, Urschel’s resumé has enough achievements for three people:

• after graduating from Niagara, she earned five more diplomas and degrees, including two Master’s degrees and a PhD in Nursing;
• an exhaustive list of awards—to her personally and also to institutions while she was their leader;
• invitations to be guest speaker at medical conferences from New York to Chicago to San Antonio and beyond;
• helping smaller communities get better health care;
• inspired her own exhausted colleagues to somehow accommodate overflow patients from New York City so that its hospitals swamped with COVID patients could remain operational.

Her remarkable journey was launched with a Health Sciences education at Niagara College, something Urschel recalls fondly.

“My experience at Niagara College was great,” she said in an interview earlier this year. “I was at the start of my journey, not knowing where I was going to go. Niagara opened up possibilities, opened up the world.”

Urschel’s trajectory began as a critical care nurse at Buffalo’s renowned Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. She embraced the clinical role, but realized she was also intrigued by the administrative challenges of health care. Veering her path, Urschel moved to another Buffalo health institution for a job recruiting nurse practitioners. She was soon doing the same for a second clinic, simultaneously. She was also teaching the same discipline at a nearby university.

NC opened possibilities

Urschel’s energy and commitment were noticed. In 2007, Albany (NY) Memorial Hospital recruited her to be VP Operations/Chief Nursing Officer. Among other achievements, Urschel led a successful campaign to update the hospital’s facilities, enabling it to give its community advanced services in cardiology, cardiac surgery and vascular surgery. During this period Urschel also found time to earn a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) degree.

In 2019, after obtaining yet another major degree—her Doctorate of Nursing—Urschel was hired to become Chief Operating Officer for Columbia Memorial Health System in upstate New York. Her role was to advance patient care in dozens of facilities across three largely rural counties. Three months into the new job, the global pandemic turned her world on its head.

“This was by far the most difficult situation I’ve had to deal with,” Urschel said. “We went week after week without a break. I tried to remind people that we have to take care of each other. Our employees needed us, our colleagues needed our support.

“We were starting to see patients coming from New York City because hospitals there were overloaded. People were being dropped off in taxis, so sick they would get out of the cab and pass out as we brought them into the hospital.”

While struggling to keep their own facilities functional, Urschel inspired exhausted colleagues to provide overflow beds for COVID patients so that the desperate hospitals in NYC—more than 100 miles away—could remain open.

“If my career ended tomorrow, I’d be happy in knowing that I’ve been able to do all the things I wanted to try,”

After her extraordinary dedication and tireless leadership through the pandemic, Columbia Memorial Health in 2022 made Urschel its President & CEO.

Despite the demands from her own primary roles across the medical services spectrum, Urschel has never lost the sense of obligation to help train the next generation of health care professionals. Despite holding senior leadership roles at large health care organizations, she has made time throughout her career to teach in nurse practitioner and other programs at numerous colleges and universities.

Urschel has gone from studying at Niagara College to excelling in some of the most senior roles in New York State health care.

When she received the 2017 Resourceful Woman Award from the YWCA of the Greater Capital Region in Albany, the citation lauded Urschel’s dedication to educating women about the risk of heart disease, as well as addressing the disparity between racial and socioeconomic differences in heart health.

Urschel has done research, conducted clinical trials, published papers in academic journals, served on hospital boards and committees, all while pushing herself to contribute all she can to health and wellbeing.

“If my career ended tomorrow, I’d be happy in knowing that I’ve been able to do all the things I wanted to try,” she said. “I’ve always told my own students what I was taught at college: You can do anything that you want to pursue.”

This story is part of a series featuring seven distinguished members of Niagara College’s alumni community, who have been nominated for Colleges Ontario’s prestigious 2023 Premier’s Awards.