ECU vice chancellor for health sciences to step down

Dr. Phyllis Horns

An East Carolina University leadership mainstay, who has filled many shoes at the university—from student to vice chancellor—has announced her intent to rejoin the faculty.

After serving as vice chancellor of ECU’s Division of Health Sciences for nearly a decade, Dr. Phyllis Horns will leave that position effective July 31. She will transition to a faculty position in the College of Nursing after concluding a year of research.

ECU Chancellor Cecil Staton praised Horns’ efforts in expanding the mission and impact of health sciences through her leadership.

“Great universities become great in part because of excellent faculty, staff and students who work hard in their respective areas to bring distinction,” Staton said. “I am certainly appreciative of Phyllis for her many years of service and dedication to making ECU what it is today.”

As vice chancellor, Horns oversees a division that comprises the Brody School of Medicine, the College of Dental Medicine, the College of Nursing, the College of Allied Health Sciences, the North Carolina Agromedicine Institute, the EC Diabetes and Obesity Institute and Laupus Health Sciences Library.

“I’m very proud of the growth and the top-notch faculty, staff and students that we have recruited to this campus over the course of the time I’ve been here,” Horns said. “I am amazed every day at the work we do in this division and in this region for the citizens of our state.”

She said it is the right time for her family for her to step out of a major administrative role.

“I’m making a transition at a time when things are really in great shape on the health sciences campus,” she said.

Horns served as interim vice chancellor of health sciences from 2001-2002, and again in 2006 until her permanent appointment in 2009. She also served as interim dean of the Brody School of Medicine.

During her tenure, the division expanded to include the School of Dental Medicine and its eight community service-learning centers across the state, the East Carolina Heart Institute, a new student services center and the family medicine building. Under Horns’ leadership as dean of the School of Nursing from 1990-2006, the school launched the doctoral program in nursing and MSN options in midwifery, nurse anesthesia, nursing education and neonatal nurse practitioner.  Enrollment in both undergraduate and graduate programs more than doubled, and the school became a national leader in technology integration through simulation and on-line programming.  The new health sciences building opened in 2006, bringing together all health sciences schools on the West Campus.

Horns also played a key role in planning for the clinical integration of ECU Physicians and Vidant Medical Group, and spearheaded efforts to expand ECU’s Department of Public Health into a School of Public Health.

“It has been my pleasure to work alongside of Vice Chancellor Horns,” said Dr. Michael Waldrum, CEO, Vidant Health. “I value our partnership and her leadership immensely. She will be missed, and I wish her all the best in her future endeavors.”

A legacy of leadership

An eastern North Carolina native, Horns earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing from ECU, followed by her master’s in public health from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. She joined the ECU nursing faculty in 1970 as an instructor of parent-child nursing and in 1975 earned a pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP) certificate from the University of Rochester. She joined the graduate nursing faculty at the University of Alabama-Birmingham in 1979 and later served six years as assistant dean for undergraduate studies. She returned to ECU in 1988 as professor and chair of parent-child nursing and was selected dean following a national search.

Horns received her PhD of nursing in 1980 from UAB’s School of Nursing, where in 2010 she was recognized as a one of 60 Visionary Leaders and in 2017 received the UAB School of Nursing Distinguished Alumni Award.

“Dr. Horns has dedicated over 20 years to making ECU a better university and a better place to work,” said ECU Chancellor Emeritus Steve Ballard. “She has served in numerous roles, willingly took on some of the very hardest assignments and always achieved positive results. She has been an exemplary academic leader a positive team leader who empowers her teammates and has unquestioned integrity.”

ECU Board of Trustees members Vern Davenport and Deborah Davis voiced their admiration for Horns’ leadership.

“Phyllis has been instrumental in leading a very sophisticated and comprehensive health sciences division,” Davenport said. “She has maintained ECU’s focus on service and on the needs of the people of North Carolina, with an emphasis on the people of eastern North Carolina.”

Davis lauded Horns’ hand in the expansion and burgeoning reputation of ECU’s Division of Health Sciences.

“She has provided leadership for the phenomenal growth of the health sciences schools, including the addition of the School of Dental Medicine,” Davis said. “Due to her tenacity, the next generation of health care providers are well prepared to serve the people of North Carolina.”

Over the span of her career, Horns served as president of the SREB Council on Collegiate Education for Nursing, a member of the National League for Nursing board of directors, treasurer of the North Carolina Institute of Medicine and chair of the NLN Accrediting Commission.

Her many accolades include the 2011 ECU College of Nursing Distinguished Alumni Award and the North Carolina Hospital Association 2016 Meritorious Service Award. In 2001, she was inducted as a fellow into the American Academy of Nursing.

Much of Horns’ time at the helm came when other women were also in or transitioning into leadership roles, a trend that Horns learned much from.

“Women bring to the leadership roles unique attributes and capabilities that need to be embraced and incorporated into the fabric of the institution,” she said. “I’ve learned so much from other women leaders and many other leaders on campus.”

College of Nursing Dean Dr. Sylvia Brown considers Horns a professional mentor.

“She has always been willing to listen and help problem-solve when I needed advice,” Brown said.

Returning to her roots

Horns’ return to the College of Nursing will benefit its faculty and students alike, Brown said.

“Dr. Horns is an exemplary visionary leader who has been instrumental in building and transforming the health sciences division into a collaborative academic health center focused on the mission of transforming the health of citizens in our region and preparing the next generation of highly qualified health professionals,” she said. “We look forward to her returning to her roots as a College of Nursing faculty member.”

Horns said she is eager to once more be a part of the vibrant atmosphere of the College of Nursing.

“Nursing is a very fast-paced discipline, and a lot has changed since I’ve been in administration,” she said. “It will be extremely rewarding to once again work with the College of Nursing faculty, staff and students.”

Horns credits the leaders around her for much of her division’s success, from student recruitment and retention to national honors and research breakthroughs. She praised the current deans of the colleges and schools, emphasizing that she is leaving the campus in good hands.

“With the kind of leadership and stature that we have in the colleges and schools, could there be a better time?” she asked. “I feel such great pride in what we have accomplished. It’s been a great journey.”


ECU News Services
Howard House, 1001 E. Fifth Street
Greenville, NC 27858
Phone: 252-328-6481

Contact: Amy A. Ellis, Director, ECU Health Sciences Communication,

Telephone: (252) 744-3764