Mary qualified as a general nurse at the Wolfson School of Nursing, Westminster Hospital in 1976 and gained Registration as a Mental Health Nurse in 1979 from the Bethlem Royal and Maudsley School of Nursing. She then worked in the NHS as a District Nurse, Ward Sister and Nursing Officer. During the latter period of NHS employment she studied at the Extra Mural Department of the University of London through the Royal College of Nursing gaining a Diploma in Nursing (1984) and a Diploma in Nursing Education (1985). She subsequently gained a Masters in Nursing from the University of Wales 1987 and a PHD from King’s College in 1994. During this period of “learning and earning” she held appointments in nurse education and research at The Nightingale School of Nursing (1981-1983), held a joint appointment at the Bethlem and Maudsley School of Nursing with the Institute of Psychiatry (1984 – 1986) and an appointment at the Royal College of Nursing (1987-1989).
In 1989 she moved to the West Country, continuing research in London while working part time in Plymouth School of Nursing. She became Academic Director of Tor & South West College of Health Studies (1994 - 1995) and was appointed Head of the Institute of Health Studies at the University of Plymouth in 1996. During the last decade she has been involved in the successful bidding processes for the Peninsula Medical School and new initiatives in Dietetic and Physiotherapy education.
She was appointed Dean of the Faculty of Health and Social Work in 2003, Pro Vice-Chancellor Health in 2005, Deputy Vice-Chancellor in 2007 and Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor in 2010.
Her main research interests are in the mental health domain, including evaluating effectiveness of services for users and carers and nurse education. She was the Inaugural Editor of the Journal of Clinical Nursing, 2001 – 2004 and is a regular reviewer for three journals. Her publications include four books, some 40 articles and editorials in academic journals and she has secured research funding from a range of bodies including the NHS, the Inner City Partnership and the English National Board for Nursing. Her most recent publication was in January 2011: Sherrie Hitchen, Mary Watkins, Graham R. Williamson, Susan Ambury, Gillian Bemrose, David Cook, Maureen Taylor, (2011) "Lone voices have an emotional content: focussing on mental health service user and carer involvement", International Journal of Health Care Quality Assurance, Vol. 24 Iss: 2, pp.164 – 177. She is regularly invited to contribute as a conference speaker and was a member of the NICE appraisal Committee (2000-2006) and of the UKCC for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visitors (1996 – 2001) and served on the Department of Health Mental Health Nursing Reviews in 2004/5. She is currently a Non-Executive Director of the South Western Ambulance NHS Trust, and was appointed to the Bupa Foundation Board in 2007.