2015 Professional Achievement Award

Margaret Heitkemper, PhD, RN, FAAN, ‘73



Dr. Margaret Heitkemper, Ph.D., R.N., FAAN, is receiving this year’s Professional Achievement Award. She is a 1973 graduate of Seattle University’s College of Nursing.


Throughout her career, Dr. Margaret Heitkemper, has shown exceptional leadership. An innovator integrating basic scientific research into the practice of nursing, she inspires colleagues with her cutting edge approach to health care. Nationally and internationally recognized, Dr. Heitkemper is proud to be recently elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, one of medicine’s highest honors.

Earning her master’s at the University of Washington in Physiological Nursing, Dr. Heitkemper’s studies concentrated on gastrointestinal physiology and its possible link to symptoms such as abdominal pain and diarrhea. Her graduate studies examined the effects stress may have upon the gastrointestinal system. Today, the focus of her work is on the physical and psychological effects of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

According to her colleague, Dr. Kristen Swanson, “She has changed the dialogue about IBS from one of a psychosomatic disorder to one about a functional GI disturbance.”


Dr. Heitkemper had the courage to introduce a clinical research program identifying possible symptoms related to IBS at a time little notice was being paid to GI distress. “Her focus on a functional disorder that brought thousands of women patients to clinics for treatment each year,” says Swanson, “reflected a nursing perspective and quickly gave rise to a unique research program that she has sustained for more than 25 years.”

Because of her work, IBS patients have adopted ways of living quality lives. Dr. Heitkemper gathered a research team of highly trained nurses to design a practical tool allowing IBS patients to manage their symptoms.


Dr. Heitkemper has not only generously given of her time to mentoring students, but has consulted with international scholars, permitted the publication of the results of her research in a number of textbooks and assisted with the editing of selected issues of scientific journals.

In a career full of successes, Dr. Heitkemper is most proud of her work highlighting the importance of women’s health and the role gender plays in health and treatment. She says, “The work has impacted many, many people and will in the future as we mentor future generations of scientists.”

“Her long-standing research program exemplifies the outstanding leadership that the College of Nursing and University aspires,” Swanson said.  “Her work is not only significant among scientific circles, it has touched the lives of a large segment of the population living with a chronic, functional disorder.”

Dr. Heitkemper’s contribution to the field of nursing is exceptional. Her quality achievement underwritten by compassion for the suffering of others, truly speak to the Jesuit values she holds.