Dr. LaDonna Northington, associate dean of academic affairs for the School of Nursing, has a long list of achievements and honors that span her 43-year nursing career at UMMC.
Dr. LaDonna Northington, associate dean of academic affairs for the School of Nursing, has a long list of achievements and honors that span her 43-year nursing career at UMMC.
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Front and Center: LaDonna Northington

Published on Thursday, February 10, 2022

By: Andrea Wright Dilworth, awdilworth@umc.edu

Editor's Note: In honor of Black History Month’s 2022 theme, Black Health and Wellness, we want to celebrate the contributions, breakthroughs and cultural richness of Black professionals and students at UMMC. See more Front and Center features.

Dr. LaDonna Northington did not always dream of being a nurse, nor did she aspire to be an administrator. Her career trajectory, though, is a compelling reminder that you don’t have to have it all figured out. 

The professor and associate dean for academic affairs in the School of Nursing imagined a career as a flight attendant as a teenager. By the time she graduated high school, however, she’d decided to pursue nursing, earning a degree from the University of Mississippi Medical Center in 1979. 

After becoming a staff nurse in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit more than four decades ago, the Natchez native couldn’t foresee herself doing anything else.  

“My career path was somewhat different in that I thought I would be a bedside PICU nurse until they wheeled me out on a stretcher,” said Northington, with a laugh.   

It was only at a friend’s nudging that she returned to school, earning a Master of Science in Nursing from UMMC in 1987, and a Doctor of Nursing Science from Louisiana State University more than a decade later.  

Along the way, she has served UMMC in a variety of roles that have allowed her to touch every aspect of the SON. That includes working as a clinical nurse specialist, a role she convinced hospital administration to create; serving as nursing manager; climbing the ranks from assistant professor to full professor; and becoming assistant dean for undergraduate programs before being appointed to her current position in 2019.    

“I learned through collaboration with peers that as good as I was at the bedside, I had much more to contribute to the profession of nursing,” said the daughter of teachers. “I would encourage all nurses to find that inner drive that makes you want to make a difference in nursing. Do what makes you smile, inside and out. Do what you do because you love it.” 

Northington’s accolades are extensive. She will wrap up a two-year term as president of the Society of Pediatric Nurses in May. Some of her awards, which span decades, include the following:  

  • SON Alumna of the Year 
  • Higher Education Appreciation – Working for Academic Excellence Outstanding Faculty  
  • Association of Black Nursing’s Excellence in Academic Leadership Award  
  • Mississippi Nurses Association’s Nightingale Award for Nursing Faculty of the Year 
  • Normal C. Nelson Order, through which students honor UMMC’s best instructors, twice  
  • Mississippi Nurses Association’s Pediatric/Neonatal and Critical Care Nurse of the Year, multiple times  

Though Northington said, jokingly, that she is proudest to have survived 43 years in the field, what she has been able to achieve is not lost on her.   

“I am most proud of the lives I have impacted for the better – through caring for patients and families in the PICU to teaching nursing students who are also impacting lives every day. I am humbled.”   

Despite having a career that has evolved organically, Northington has always been conscientious of the fact that others were watching.  

“I tried to be a role model for those coming behind me,” she explained. “Maybe it stemmed from being the eldest child and feeling the need to set an example for my siblings. My goal was always to give my best at everything I did, even when it was hard and seemed impossible.”