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Nursing school dean prioritizes national prestige, diversity in fifth year

Hatchet File Photo
In her first five years, nursing school Dean Pamela Jeffries said she has prioritized recognizing student and faculty achievements and implemented a diversity advisory council.

After spending more than four years focused on growing the School of Nursing’s academic and research enterprises, Dean Pamela Jeffries said she is looking to prepare the school’s students for an ever-changing health care environment.

Jeffries said she has prioritized recognizing student and faculty achievements, implementing a diversity advisory council and advancing the school’s research and culture initiatives alongside University President Thomas LeBlanc. She said she will ensure in the coming years that academic and research programs fit with fluctuating financial, medical and administrative demands of the health care environment.

“As a dean, I’ve got to make sure I’m looking forward, that our programs are going to suit the needs of the community and our profession in health care,” Jeffries said.

Gaining recognition
Jeffries said she has worked to bolster the nursing school’s research profile and more frequently recognize student and faculty achievements to strengthen the nursing school’s reputation within the University and on a national scale.

Jeffries said the nursing school drew $4.1 million in research grants and awards last fiscal year for nursing research. She said nursing school officials added “research infrastructure,” like increasing the number of research administrators available to guide faculty through the research office’s proposal submission processes.

She said enhancing nursing research aligns with LeBlanc’s strategic initiative to strengthen GW’s reputation as a “world-class” research institution focused on expanding research opportunities for students, reviewing the University’s research environment and increasing support for principal investigators.

“We’ve got to have researchers discover new knowledge, this is our profession,” she said.

In 2015, Jeffries announced she would boost research efforts in the nursing school in an attempt to climb from the school’s No. 58 U.S. News and World Report ranking for its master’s programs and to develop clinical nursing practice methods informed by empirical research. Master’s programs in the nursing school are currently ranked No. 43 in the U.S. News and World Report.

For the first time this year, Jeffries said the nursing school nominated and granted the DAISY Award – which recognizes nurses’ “extraordinary” work in the health care field worldwide – to nursing student Kerre Aufsesser and faculty member Jennifer Walsh. She said the nursing school’s participation in the international award program signals that the school prioritizes recognizing student and faculty accomplishments.

“It’s representing our care and compassion and those folks who go the extraordinary step to deliver that story,” Jeffries said.

She added that student enrollment in the nursing school nearly doubled during her tenure. Jeffries said that she increased the number of full-time faculty and added resources like mental health counseling on the Virginia Science and Technology Campus to accommodate the increase in student population.

The nursing school’s student population was nearly 1,200 in 2018, according to institutional data. She added that the enrollment increase will partially fill a nationwide shortage of nurses.

“We’re attributing the greater good for our profession, for the community and for our nation, and producing more nurses,” Jeffries said.

Welcoming diversity and strengthening culture
Jeffries said that creating an inclusive culture is another component of the nursing school’s goal to fulfill LeBlanc’s institutional culture initiatives.

“We’ve embraced our values that came out from the University,” she said.

Last year, the nursing school won the Health Professions Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award, which recognizes schools that demonstrate their commitment to welcoming and increasing diversity. She said she is “honored” that the nursing school has joined other nursing schools that have won the award.

“I’m a firm believer and supporter for diversity, equity and inclusion,” Jeffries said.

Jeffries said she instituted the school’s first assistant dean for diversity, equity and inclusion and established a nursing faculty- and staff-run advisory council for diversity that administered a school climate survey and ensures that the nursing school remains an inclusive environment for students and faculty. The nursing school still lags behind its peers in hiring male faculty.

She added that the number of students admitted to the nursing school through the Bachelor of Science in nursing veterans option – a program that allows veterans opportunities to earn nursing degrees – has seen a large increase since the program’s implementation in 2015.

Moving forward
Jeffries said that because the professional health care environment changes according to trends in health care administration and practice, the nursing school must continue to adapt its academic programming.

She said a slew of new degree program options – like a doctorate in nursing and a doctoral degree of nursing practice in health policy – will allow students more opportunities to pursue specialized career paths in nursing.

“We always have to keep our finger on the pulse,” Jeffries said.

She said that she hopes to collaborate with the School of Business to teach nursing students finance and business administration skills, which are necessary prerequisites for serving in leadership roles in hospitals and health care clinics. Jeffries said she wants to work with the officials in the School of Engineering and Applied Science to educate students about advances in biomedical technology, like wearable health care devices.

“The other thing I’m looking for in the next five years is just looking at new programs and being collaborative across GW,” she said.

Support from faculty
Nursing school faculty said Jeffries has successfully facilitated the growth of GW’s youngest school and can now devote more focus toward catering to nursing students’ needs going forward.

Mark Tanner, a professor of nursing and the assistant dean for Bachelor of Science in nursing programs, said Jeffries’ leadership has been key to the nursing school’s growth over the past five years. He said her goals for the school have increased support for students and dedicated resources to ensure student success.

“She is also able to convey her vision in a very relatable way that makes those who work under her leadership want to follow her,” Tanner said in an email.

He said Jeffries’ 2018-21 strategic plan for the nursing school is a good starting off point for developing future goals for the nursing school in areas like nursing curricula, health policy, research and culture transformation. Tanner added that the plan will be adapted according to the changing needs of students.

“These goals are the priority for the program at this time and once we work through these goals we will re-evaluate to find the goals that fit the needs of the program and students at that time,” he said.

Dani Grace, Ciara Regan and Zach Schonfeld contributed reporting.

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