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Dean commends Nursing School’s evolution, growth in annual address

In an age of transforming health care, Dean of the School of Nursing Catherine Gilliss sees her school uniquely poised to embrace those changes.

Members of the Duke University School of Nursing convened Monday afternoon for the Annual State of the School Presentation. Gilliss delivered the address, which summarized progress over the past year and described the school’s strategic vision for the future.

“We have made this... a pretty special place,” Gilliss said. “Our students want to enroll.... Our staff turnover is frankly is one of the lowest on campus. It’s really the people who make this such a special place.”

Gilliss discussed the growth of the faculty in recent years, which at Duke, includes a relatively young pool of professors compared to other schools. Currently, with two-thirds of the faculty joining since Gilliss’s arrival at Duke in 2004 and 10 faculty members added since 2010, DUSON has 14 full professors, 20 associate professors and 35 assistant professors. Gilliss noted that while DUSON has more male faculty than is typical for nursing schools, the professor population is still mostly composed of white women. Ninety-three percent of the faculty either have their doctorate degree or are in the process of obtaining the distinction, she added.

Susan Schneider, lead faculty for the oncology specialties at DUSON, has been at the school for 11 years. She said she has seen the school grow from about 20 faculty in a small building to where they are today, but she noted that some things have stayed constant.

“I think we’ve kept what’s important,” Schneider said. “We’ve gotten bigger and we’ve gotten better, but we still care about each other as a faculty community, and we still care about our students.”

Although Gilliss is pleased with the growth and general makeup of DUSON’s faculty, she said the target number for the student body is 750, which the school slightly exceeded this year. In 2004, the school offered a Master of Science in Nursing program and the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing with a graduating class of 32 students. Since then, DUSON developed a Ph.D. and Doctor of Nursing Practice program, and the ABSN class expanded to 220 students, she said.

“In the early years, we needed to grow and then stabilize that growth,” Gilliss said. “We now have 766 students. What we want to do now is to really focus on not growing but... developing excellence in all those programs.”

The slightly larger than desired student population has not impeded DUSON’s students from achieving important distinctions, such as earning research funding and winning merit scholarships.

Gillis noted that the 2011 graduates of the ABSN program had a 100 percent pass rate on the basic licensing exam, following a trend of “astoundingly high” pass rates over the past several years. She also commented on positive developments in summer 2011, such as the $15 million donation to the school by J. Michael Pearson, Trinity ’72, and a recent jump in DUSON’s academic rankings.

These developments have important ramifications for the school’s ability to develop, Gilliss said.

“Everybody knows about number seven,” she said, referring to the school’s placement in the nursing school rankings. “[Duke’s Board of] Trustees themselves really do key into the U.S. News and World Report rankings.... We are demonstrating to the Trustees and others that we are good stewards of their resources, and clearly our ascent has been rather significant.”

During last weekend’s meeting, the Board of Trustees approved permission to plan a new wing for the Pearson Building, so the school may now search for architects to design a roughly 40,000 sq.-foot addition to the school. This could be in place by Fall 2013, pending further approval from the Board, Gilliss said.

Priorities for the current academic year include a focus on excellence, strengthening evaluation, development and space planning. Gilliss noted that the school also plans to work more closely with the Pratt School of Engineering to develop curriculum options for design and entrepreneurship.

Marilyn Lombardi, director of academic and strategic technologies at DUSON, said intensive collaboration with other schools is a new venture for DUSON, but doing so will promote the mission of the school.

“[The goal is to] bring them together and see how we can design more efficient, more thoughtful, more intuitive, more patient-friendly environments and better patient outcomes,” she said.

Additionally, DUSON may be active in Duke Kunshan University in China. Professor Bei Wu, a gerontologist at DUSON, has extensive experience with Wuhan Univesity, Duke’s legal partner school in China. In July, President Richard Brodhead signed an agreement between the Wuhan School of Public Health, the Duke Global Health Institute and the Duke School of Nursing, The Chronicle reported July 1.

DUSON is looking into the possibility of holding conferences in Kunshan for the Chinese medical community and is considering developing research on issues such as how to treat chronic diseases among China’s aging population, Gilliss said.

With goals and initiatives for the upcoming school year in mind, Gilliss said DUSON students—marked by their leadership, innovation and myriad skills—will continue to graduate from DUSON as positive contributors to the health care system.

“When our graduates leave this place, they understand how to function effectively in an interdisciplinary environment, and that’s critical to the future of health care,” she said. “It’s going to be delivered by teams of people, and they have to know how to work together.”

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