Rae Simpson, BSN '95, MSN '98, improves healthcare for the South Sound community
Rae Simpson is family. With two degrees from Saint Martin’s
and three children currently enrolled as Saints, it’s
understandable that she often speaks of “we” when discussing
Saint Martin’s and the return of its nursing program.
Simpson has built a successful career in nursing leadership,
and gives a great deal of the credit to her Saint Martin’s
education. Since 2008 she has been the director of behavioral
health for Providence Health & Services and St. Peter Hospital
in Olympia. Her job is to find ways to improve patient care,
especially in the areas of chemical dependency, sexual assault
and psychiatric services. It’s a big challenge in the current
economic climate. Grant money and public funding for mental
health services have dried up, and Providence has had to close a
number of clinics in smaller communities.
“Part of my job was to regroup and develop a plan to serve
the mission on a budget,” Simpson explains. She welcomes the
challenge of doing research and implementing evidence-based
practices to make sure that what Providence/St. Peter is doing
is working for its patients.
Simpson’s appreciation of her current employer is similar to
her affinity for her alma mater.
“St. Peter Hospital is very much like Saint Martin’s,” she
says. “They have similar missions and core values.” She speaks
glowingly of the story of Mother Joseph, the revered nun who
came to southwestern Washington in the middle of the 19th
century and created much-needed health services to the region.
That early work formed what eventually became the Providence
“I can’t walk in her shoes,” Simpson says of Mother Joseph,
who is memorialized with a statue in the Capitol in Olympia,
“but I want to continue to serve in that same capacity. What can
I do to improve health care for our community?”
Just as she felt a member of a community at Saint Martin’s,
she finds her co-workers at Providence to be supportive and
“Sometimes it’s not the job you do, or where you work, it’s
the people you work with that make it worthwhile,” Simpson says.
When Simpson and her husband, Guy, a teacher, moved to Lacey,
she had been in the funeral business, but felt that was no
longer for her. She decided to give nursing a try. She earned an
associate’s degree in nursing at South Puget Sound Community
College in 1994. Then, attracted by the one-to-one teaching —
and some scholarship help — she came to Saint Martin’s to earn a
Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 1996, and then a master’s in
1998. At the time she wondered if the degrees and the
credentials would be worth the time and effort, but decided it
would be silly to pass up the opportunity. She hasn’t regretted
“Now when I look back on it, I’m so glad I took advantage of
that situation,” Simpson says. “It has really helped me. My
degrees from Saint Martin’s have allowed me to have better
opportunities with every job I’ve had.” She admits to being
biased, because she did it this way, but Simpson thinks that
earning an associate’s degree first is a smart way to go.
“It really adds a whole new depth to your education,” she
says. “I recommend it to people who want to be nurses. Get your
two-year, get those skills under your belt, and then add your
The advanced degree then allows a nurse to step back, see the
bigger picture and treat the holistic patient, according to
Simpson. “It opens your eyes and ears to seeing more,” she says.
Given that advice, she’s delighted that the renewed nursing
program at Saint Martin’s will be focused on bachelor’s degree
completion for nurses who already have two-year degrees. She
says students in the South Sound area will benefit from having a
top-quality program closer to home. It’s especially touching for
her as she was one of the last students to earn a Saint Martin’s
nursing degree before the program closed 14 years ago.
“We called ourselves the ‘elite eight,’” she jokes of the
small cohort of classmates in the leadership track of the
master’s program in 1998.
Simpson has established herself as a visible advocate for
nursing throughout the South Sound region. Since last year, when
Saint Martin’s announced its plan to launch its RN-to-BSN
program, she has offered much time, energy and support to the
program. She is delighted with the choice of Louise Kaplan,
Ph.D. to be the program director.
“Dr. Kaplan is amazing,” Simpson says. “It’s going to be a
Simpson’s other passion is theatre. She and her three
children, Taylor, Katie and Guy III, all used to act at the Drew
Harvey Theater in Yelm. The four of them would be on stage,
while papa Guy II, worked behind the scenes. He may have had the
best seat in the house.
“It’s one thing to watch a show,” Simpson says, “but boy, the
stuff that goes on behind the stage is probably even a bigger
Both of her passions have clearly taken hold on the kids.
Taylor is a theatre arts major at Saint Martin’s and was in the
department’s production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s
Dream this spring. Katie and Guy are considering health careers.
Simpson says the kids appreciate the personal attention they
receive in their classes, and she appreciates the University’s
unwavering commitment to its core values.
“As much as it’s changed, in many ways it has stayed the
same,” she says. “There’s something kind of special about that.”
“What a great experience. A Saint Martin’s education is