Catherine Gilliss reflects on years as nursing dean
Dean of the School of Nursing Catherine Gilliss will step down in June 2014. Under her leadership, the School was awarded No.7 for graduate nursing programs in the United States according to U.S. News and World Report rankings in 2011. In addition, Gilliss herself an alumnus, received her bachelor's degree in nursing in 1971. The Chronicle's Alyssa Coughenour caught up to Gilliss to reflect on her years leading the school.
TC: Having been the Dean of the School of Nursing for the past 10 years, what would you say has been your biggest accomplishment in the position?
CG: In the last 10 years, the School community has more than doubled in size (both faculty and enrollment). We are now offering doctoral level education—both the Doctoral of Nursing Practice degree and the PhD, masters level specialization. Our accelerated second-degree BSN is accepting two cohorts every year for a total enrollment of about 150 students, which is up from 32 in 2004. We erected a new building in 2006 and are currently constructing a major addition to that building. But more important than these obvious signs of growth, we have built a distinguished community of faculty, staff and students who can contribute to Duke’s vision of using knowledge to serve society.
TC: What are your hopes for the School of Nursing in the next 10 years?
CG: I think one frontier for our school includes making our intellectual work more visible. The public sees what nurses do, but has little understanding of what we think about while in action, or the nature of the problems the profession aims to solve. I believe that more young men and women people would consider careers in nursing if they better understood the substance of our concerns. We hope that our students and faculty will become increasingly integrated into campus programs like the Bass Connections that reveal a deeper understanding of the discipline of nursing.
TC: When did you figure out that you wanted a career in nursing?
CG: I wanted to do nursing as an 18-year old, but I wasn’t really sure until I was a senior and I got into psychiatric nursing. That’s when I knew I found my passion.
TC: What were some of the obstacles you faced coming into the position and how did you overcome those?
CG: When I came to Duke in fall 2004, my predecessor Dean Mary Champagne had lined up just about everything to ensure that we would be successful. She had a plan for the PhD, a design for the new building and a core faculty who were committed to moving forward. We carefully recruited both junior and senior faculty who would be able to advance our work and shared our commitment to participate fully in the university.
TC: You are not planning to step down until June 2014. What are you most excited for in the next year?
CG: I’m looking forward to celebrate the growth of the School with the faculty and student colleagues and especially the alumni. The alumni are very pleased with the direction and success of the School.
TC: Why are you stepping down from the position? What’s calling your name next?
CG: I will have served two full terms as dean and have accomplished what I hoped we could while at Duke. I have never loved a job more and have been especially grateful for the chance to serve my alma mater. What’s next—I cannot imagine being anywhere other than Duke. After a year of sponsored leave, I hope to return and continue to work on projects that involve a high degree of interdisciplinarity and innovation.
TC: How is the search for a replacement?
CG: A very qualified search committee, chaired by Dr. James Tulsky, has been appointed by Chancellor Victor Dzau. The committee will begin meeting later this month. Drs. Tulsky and Dzau are in the best position to describe the plans for the committee’s work.
TC: How are you lining up everything for whoever will replace you?
CG: We have a healthy treasury and an endowment that will enable the next dean to support scholarships and faculty. Also, our strategic plan will continue through 2015, so the new dean’s arrival will overlap with that plan.
TC: What advice do you have for students right now?
CG: Well, one of the things students should really take advantage of is the Office of Health Professions Advising. There are a lot of resources and people to help.