From Health Care to the Culture of Care

Sally Ellis Fletcher shares her passion for nursing, education and social justice
Portrait of Sally Ellis Fletcher wearing royal blue blazer

The Black Excellence At UMKC series helps to increase awareness of the representation of diversity and equity on campus and show a visible commitment to the inclusion and recognition of Black faculty and staff. This series celebrates and highlights Black and Roo faculty and staff working behind the scenes and on the frontlines to help our university achieve its mission to promote learning and discovery for all people at UMKC and the greater Kansas City community.

Sally Ellis Fletcher developed her passion for education, nursing and social justice when she was just a child. She’d dissect grasshoppers and demonstrate to her toys what she was doing. As a teenager, she worked in an infirmary and enjoyed caring for the students. Having grown up in a family that was active in social justice, she was leading her first workshop by the age of 14. So, her current role as associate dean for students at the School of Nursing and Health Studies is a natural blend of the causes she cares most about. In our newest Black Excellence At UMKC feature, Ellis Fletcher shares how she combines her servant leadership and career experiences to help inspire future care providers.

"While I’m not working directly in health care, the principles of patient care are still at the core of what I do."

Name: Sally Ellis Fletcher
Job Function: School of Nursing and Health Studies, associate dean for students
Tenure: 2015
Hometown: Kansas City, Missouri
Undergraduate University: Avila University (College)
Graduate University:
UMKC Master of Science, Nursing, Women’s Health Care
UMKC Post-Master, Nurse Practitioner, Women’s Health Care
University of Rochester, Rochester, New York, Ph.D., Dissertation - Entrepreneurship in Nursing

Sally Ellis Fletcher wearing a mask and standing near health sciences display

Why did you choose UMKC as the place to grow your career?

The mission and vision of UMKC align with my personal values, especially the six core values of the School of Nursing and Health Studies: respect, inclusion and diversity, integrity, excellence, innovation and health. These values give each member of the School of Nursing and Health Studies community an equal foundation, or starting point, to learn, grow, develop and launch their dreams into the world.

What do you enjoy most about working at UMKC?

The students that come to UMKC trust us to guide them toward achieving their dreams. Students come through our doors with a dream for their lives and we have a big part in helping them get there. Everyone’s role is important in helping launch students into the next phase of their lives.

As a nurse, you’re educated and prepared to work with everybody in the health-care system. You’re not isolated; you have to be a spiderweb. You have to think about public health, rehab, critical care, etc. So, while I’m not working directly in health care, the principles of patient care are still at the core of what I do. I transfer my nursing skills into academia. Nurses think globally, and about resources, patients/consumers will need to achieve their optimal health. When I’m helping students, I think globally about the resources available, and what needs to happen for them to succeed. I’m still functioning as a nurse, but now I’m an academic administrator in nursing education.

"There’s a saying, 'nobody cares what you know, until they know that you care.' I try to always care."

What are the challenges of your career field?

There are never enough student scholarships.

I have a vision that every student entering the School of Nursing and Health Studies would be part of a “pay it forward program.” Each student would receive 50 to 70 percent of their tuition in scholarships, with the stipulation they participate in paying it forward through recruitment, community service and post-graduation financial investment in future students. Don’t laugh, but I think about how I’d pitch this idea to Dolly Parton, Oprah and Stedman, Malinda and Bill Gates, Beyoncé and Jay-Z, or anyone else who would listen.

What are the benefits of your career field?

I see the future of healthcare through the potential of every student. It is truly exciting! 

Sally Ellis Fletcher portrait with health sciences banners in the background

How do you connect and establish relationships with Black faculty and staff in other units and departments?

My position keeps me very busy and, like most of us, our schedules are frequently double, or triple booked. So, I’m not always able to attend certain functions or group gatherings.

Yet, humans have this magnetic power to bond together through common experiences. When serving on committees or sitting in meetings, you’re drawn to someone, friendships are created and you support one another long term.

I serve on various committees and I always try to speak on behalf of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). I’m frequently asking, “have we considered the student perspective? Have we considered DEI?”

What is your primary research focus?

Cultural sensibility in health care. I published a book about this at a time when people were discussing “cultural competence.” I didn’t feel that was a good term. The book explores how nurses and healthcare workers can provide proactive culturally sensible care to patients/consumers. The vignettes in the book come from some of my own experiences and experiences that others have shared with me; hopefully, they can help people see and work through their biases, prejudices and stereotypes.

"I see the future of healthcare through the potential of every student. It is truly exciting!"

How are you involved in the Kansas City community?

I’m honored to serve on the board of Newhouse, a Kansas City shelter for individuals experiencing domestic violence. Our doors are open to women and their children, as well as men and their children. We have a new CEO that is innovatively leading the shelter to break the cycle of domestic violence.

Describe your mentoring relationships with students.

I always tell students that “I’m here.” I try to tear down the walls and just be real. If something happens with a student, I try to get to the root of the issue by asking more questions and listening to them and their life experiences.  There’s a saying, “nobody cares what you know until they know that you care.” I try to always care.


What is one word that best describes you?

A “realistic optimist.” I know, that’s two words. I see life as a glass half full, and I choose to believe the best is possible. Yet, I am very realistic. 

What is one piece of advice you’d give a student wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Don’t follow my footsteps, create your own path. You have talents and life experiences that make you wonderfully special to do greater things than what I do.