The School of Nursing is taking the first steps to raise its research profile and institute a “students-first” program as part of initiatives in its strategic plan outlined earlier this year.
The plan, which was released in January, details seven major goals for the school – including improving research efforts and diversity initiatives – to be completed within a three-year period. The beginning stages of the plan, implemented primarily in April and May before the end of the fiscal year, are designed to incentivize faculty to focus on improvements to teaching and research while also gauging ways to better support students academically and socially, officials said.
Officials said the school hosted town halls with students throughout last academic year, assessed faculty skills and updated the orientation process for new hires to create a more standardized introduction to the school. Officials also said they are on track to complete their research and student-centric goals in the next month, and a task force assessing the administrative policies of the school is set to publish its findings by the end of next year.
Experts said that although the professional nature of a nursing program can make it difficult to advance goals like research, focusing on collaboration and student input is a step in the right direction to improving any nursing program.
Advancing research goals
The strategic plan outlines publication goals for faculty and encourages collaboration between staff and faculty members to lead to a more research-oriented culture in the nursing school within the next three years.
The plan states that by the end of April, tenured and tenure-track faculty should be on a path to issue one to three peer-reviewed publications each year, while non-tenure track faculty will focus on other projects, like grant writing and subcontracts.
Pamela Jeffries, the dean of the School of Nursing, said upping research efforts was an important first step in improving the school because research can attract donors and bolster the University’s reputation.
“Over the next three years and beyond, we will continue to build our research portfolio and provide support for our researchers within the school and their collaborators in order to continue to grow in our research profile, funding and stature,” Jeffries said in an email.
By May, all faculty and staff in the School of Nursing will have completed a StrengthsFinder assessment, which evaluates employees through a standardized system to assess their skills. Jeffries said that this would help faculty understand one another’s professional strengths.
“As dean, I wanted to create a strengths-based culture so we could leverage the strengths of our faculty and staff to build teams, working groups and task committees around them,” she said.
The school will also establish a research award given to a faculty member who considers diversity in their work, either through researching underrepresented populations or through service activities, according to the strategic plan. Jeffries said the award will be given out at the second annual research colloquium next year.
April Bigelow, a clinical associate professor in the department of health behavior and biological sciences at the University of Michigan, said research is much easier with a team because it allows members to play to their own strengths and make up for skills that others may not have.
“If there is new research emerging that this faculty has specific expertise in, you can really make an impact by being involved in that,” Bigelow said. “If you bring somebody on faculty in a new area and not a lot of faculty have expertise in that, maybe you would really develop around that.”
Reorganizing administrative roles
Jeffries said the nursing school is in the process of clarifying current job descriptions and creating a standardized orientation for new hires by May.
The strategic plan also includes adding a “policy task force,” with committee members to be determined, that would assess the school’s current administrative policies to see what needs to be updated or included. Jeffries said the findings of the task force could be expected sometime in the next year.
“We have several committees where the work of the school is conducted,” Jeffries said. “However, when it comes to policies, we want to make sure the work is inclusive so the necessary committees will be developed to achieve this goal and desired trajectory.”
Jeffries added that the plan focuses on creating new organizational structures – like hiring new staff that will focus on recruitment, admission and retention, as well as an academic affairs manager – to address the increase in the number of students, faculty and staff in the nursing school.
The school’s total enrollment has steadily increased by about 30 students each year since 2014, with a jump of more than 100 students between 2016 and 2017, according to institutional data.
“Roles and responsibilities, in addition to organizational structures, are dynamic and can shift based on the needs and changes within the school,” Jeffries said.
Lori Edwards, an assistant professor of nursing at the University of Maryland, said that clarifying administrative roles defines who is responsible for certain jobs and clears up any confusion that may come with a potential overlap of roles.
“For individuals who have those responsibilities, it allows for there to be appropriate workload assignments according to those specific job descriptions,” Edwards said. “While there may be overlap, it just allows for more specificity around those different responsibilities.”
The nursing school launched a well-being program that hosted multiple seminars this fall to teach students how to cope with stress. In recent years, the school has also been working to diversify its student body to include more male and minority students in a primarily female-dominated profession.
To continue these initiatives, the strategic plan states that a calendar for social events and student interest groups would be established by the end of April to improve school culture and that a survey would be conducted by May to “assess student needs.”
In conjunction with multiple “dinner with the dean” events that have occurred over the past year, Jeffries said interest groups meet monthly and will provide students with information and networking opportunities in specific areas of nursing.
Joshua Eyer, an assistant professor at the Capstone College of Nursing at the University of Alabama, said the interest groups and survey were both steps in the right direction to ensure that students’ needs are taken into account – but that it’s ultimately up to the administration to “actually do something with it in a meaningful way.”
“Nothing happens unless the administration listens to the data that was collected and acts on it, knowing that that action is going to have to be balanced and reasonable,” he said.