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Nursing Alumna Finds Success on the Big Screen

Donna Glee Reim as a nurse
Donna Glee Reim as an actor

Donna Glee Reim, a University of Iowa College of Nursing graduate (BSN, ’55) and former instructor (psychiatric nursing, 1955-1957) has found a second calling. More specifically, Glee Reim, who currently lives in Whitinsville, Massachusetts, has been bit by the acting bug, working as a background actor in a number of marque films, including “Shutter Island”, “Bride Wars” and “The Invention of Lying.” She recently took time to answer a few questions from the college.


What made you decide to become a nurse?
I was always interested in a career in health care. My sister, who was a registered nurse, offered to let me stay with her while I went to a junior college in Washington, Iowa, to obtain my associate degree. 

Why did you choose the University of Iowa to further your nursing education?
I investigated a number of programs and found that Iowa best met my needs. I spent two wonderful years completing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Shortly after I graduated I was asked to join the faculty in the Psych dept. I loved every minute of it!

What do you remember most about your time as a UI College of Nursing student?
The University of Iowa treated me with respect. The first year I had to work while I attended school. The second year was more enjoyable since I had a stipend and could be a full-time student. The people at UI were very friendly and helpful, and it was an intellectually stimulating atmosphere. I met my husband, Robert, and one of my lifelong friends there, too.

What do you remember most about your time as a UI College of Nursing instructor?
Those two years were the most enjoyable of my nursing career. My department chair encouraged me to participate freely in the program and I did just that … serving on the admissions, curriculum and research committees.

What words of advice would you give to incoming nursing students?
There are many different types of nursing. I loved being a psychiatric nurse but wasn’t as crazy about med/surge nursing. There’s a nursing niche for everyone.

What do you believe has changed the most for nursing professionals over the years?
Nurses now command more respect as professionals.

After receiving your master’s in Educational Psychology, were you still involved in nursing?
I stayed home with our children, so I did not work professionally for a number of years. I later returned to nursing and worked from 1976 to 2003 in the mental health field. I was a school nurse practitioner for a few years as well.

When did you first decide to get into acting?
A major heart attack ended my nursing career and I needed to do something with less stress.

Acting Isn’t Stressful?
Not on my level. I’ve done background acting in all but one film. I don’t have any lines. Sometimes the hours are long but my years of nursing have conditioned me to be stoic about working long hours.

So how did you get started?
My daughter had heard of someone who was doing background acting at the time and mentioned it to me. It sounded interesting so I decided to give it a try. I have always enjoyed people and entertaining so this looked like a good match. I have been doing background acting for four years now. 

What are some of your favorite roles you’ve had as an actor (or what are some of your favorite films/projects you’ve worked on)?
I enjoyed portraying a psychiatric nurse in Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island. Since I had actually been a psychiatric nurse in the 1950s, I was able to provide some useful feedback to the costume designer. I also showed Leonardo DiCaprio a picture of me from the 50s in my nursing uniform and he said, “Wow, what a babe!”

What’s the next chapter for Donna Glee Reim?
I hope to continue background acting for as long as I can; spend time with my family; publish a book; and continue traveling (I’m planning on going to Tanzania in March … which will be my second trip to Africa).

Posted On: 
Jan 17th, 2012