EDITOR’S NOTE: Nancy Woods has been a faculty member of the UW School of Nursing since 1978. A founding director of the school’s internationally recognized Center for Women’s Health Research and a former chair of the Department of Family and Child Nursing, Woods was appointed dean of the school in 1998. She will retire from the position later this year. Here she talks with University Week about the evolution of the UW School of Nursing and the nursing education it provides.
Q. What drew you to the profession of nursing?
A. I had great opportunities to get to know women in my neighborhood who were nurses. It was the ’60s. We were all seeking something relevant to do with our lives. The thing that really impressed me was how smart these women were and how they used their knowledge to figure out what was wrong with somebody’s health and to sometimes save their life.
Q. How has the School of Nursing changed since you became dean in 1998?
A. We have an increasingly global focus, more diversity. We’re a real research powerhouse in the country. Our academic programs have become much more accessible, with our educational outreach efforts and distance learning, and we have grown tremendously in our capacity for specialty education at the graduate level, including our leading DNP [Doctor of Nursing Practice] program.
Q. When you look back at your tenure as dean, what accomplishments stand out?
A. Some of the more recent examples are sustaining our topranked graduate program, sustaining our undergraduate enrollments in the face of budget cuts with support from our clinical partners, having increased BSN [Bachelor of Science in Nursing] enrollment from 64 to 96 in the face of those state budget cuts, launching MEPN [Masters Entry Program in Nursing] for second degree students, access to our programs for nurses in underserved areas through use of technology, building partnerships with local hospitals, and pioneering the DNP program.
Our global health learning opportunities, especially for the undergraduate students. I don’t know any other state school that has anything beginning to compare with that.
Q. What are the most visible changes to nursing education in the past 10 years? What does the new Doctor of Nursing Practice degree mean for the school?
A. The complexity of health care has increased, and in response, we needed to strengthen our academic programs. The DNP grows out of the need for strengthening people’s preparation for practice and giving them the intellectual skills that they need to puzzle their way through some of the complexity. In another sense, our faculty who are pioneering the DNP program here really set the standard for the curricula in the country — the papers that the group has written have changed the field. With the MEPN program, we’re looking at ways of producing people who can assume roles as clinical leaders. One of the real challenges for the future is nurse retention beyond the first year, and that’s largely the influence of leaders. With MEPN, we’re also strengthening the educational preparation for students to graduate from that program and very quickly assume leadership roles, but also to have a stronger preparation for the realities of practice.
Q. The school is wrapping up a $24 million fundraising campaign, in which more than $28 million has been raised so far. What is the impact of those gifts?
A. The big thing is having tripled the size of our endowment. That’s important because it creates a permanent source of support for our students and faculty, and program support for our Center for Excellence in Nursing Education. In addition to the financial support, fundraising has elevated the recognition of the school in the broader community.
Q. What opportunities do you see in the future for the School of Nursing to enhance community relationships?
A. The naming of assistant deans for clinical practice and partnering in ways that enhance our educational offerings has been greatly important to us. Now people do know that, not only do we exist, but that we work to be responsive to their needs. I think that [our partnership with] Providence Everett Healthcare Clinic is going to serve as a really great model for other parts of the state as an example of how communities can be part of solutions to health care access and can also benefit. If we can engage communities in looking at partnerships with clinics such as Providence Everett we could be doing a lot more for the population.
Q. The national nurse shortage and the shortage of faculty to teach nurses remain pressing concerns — what role do you think the School of Nursing has played in trying to address those concerns?
A. In 1998 we were graduating 64 BSNs. This year, we will graduate 96 BSNs and we will have contributed 25 MEPN students, and in 2009 we will have prepared 96 BSNs plus 48 MEPNs. Overall, since 1998, that’s about a 125 percent increase in the size of our two programs to prepare new nurses.
More importantly, our preparation of teacher practitioners has focused on the increasing complexity of practice and the need to prepare people to solve very complex problems in real time. The more we use new technologies for teaching like simulation and problem-based learning and interprofessional education, the better the foundation for people to address real world challenges.
Q. What has led to the UW School of Nursing’s many accolades?
A. I think we have uncompromising standards of quality, meaning very high expectations of ourselves to do better each day. We have a strong diversity of opinions in this school about how to do things, which is wonderful because it keeps us from the “group think.” I think we have a very strong work ethic that is probably driven by just looking at the huge need for nursing.
Q. What do you wish everyone knew and understood about nursing?
A. It would be great if somebody could just follow a nurse for a 12-hour shift and just observe what it’s like, but even so, you might not be able to appreciate the heavy responsibility that nurses bear for the care of people, especially those in hospitals where there are life or death consequences of how we practice. The nurses in our advanced practice programs are out changing health care as we speak. They’re also in communities providing primary care, really being the mainstays for primary care in some areas.
Q. You have talked about being part of the first generation of female nurse-scientists who juggled work with raising a family. What was that like?
A. Challenging! It stretched my creativity to remain an active investigator and an educator and a good mother. I was fortunate to have a very supportive husband. Jim and I both agreed that if we each did our 75 percent we could make it work!
Q. What are your plans after you step down as dean?
A. I plan to step up to being a faculty member again and to focus on the health of mid-life and older women and working with students again. I’m really looking forward to that and who knows what else will come down the pike.
Q. Are there things you do now in your “free time” — things that you do to relax now or things you’re looking forward to that you might be able to do more of?
A. Top of the list is, I love to play music and I’ve had very little time for that over the last 10 years, and I’m trying to figure out how to reintergrate that into my life. I like the intellectual challenge of playing that is more than just technique; its the musicianship of thinking about what the right emotion is of the piece and the meaning and interpretation.
Q. I happen to know you play the piano and the flute. do you anticipate doing any ensembles or performances?
A. There’s a group of adult students who study with my flute teacher; I think we might be playing more together. I also enjoy playing both the flute and the piano solo.