By SUSAN JONES
When Christine Kasper made the move in January to become dean at Pitt’s School of Nursing, the question wasn’t “Why Pitt?” but instead, “Why not Pitt?”
“Everybody knows about Pitt. Ever since I was an undergrad, it’s been one of the meccas for health care, and always has been,” said Kasper, who previously was dean of the University of New Mexico’s College of Nursing. “And the (nursing) school, I remember back when Ellen Rudy was the dean (1991-2001), everybody knew Ellen. It was and remains one of the pre-eminent schools of nursing, not only in the U.S. but the world.”
ONLINE PROGRAMS EXCEL
The Pitt School of Nursing online master’s in nursing program, which includes clinical nurse leader, nursing informatics and school nursing, has been ranked seventh in the country, in a report issued in January by U.S. News & World Report. It is the only school in Pennsylvania to be listed in the top 10.
“The School of Nursing is honored to be ranked seventh for our online master’s program, joining our Doctor of Nursing Practice program that is already ranked seventh by U.S. News and World Report,” Dean Christine E. Kasper said in an announcement. “Quality health care hinges on a quality education that Pitt Nursing excels in.”
Read more on the School of Nursing website.
She especially singled out the faculty. “You go to any meeting anywhere, literally, in the world, and you run into the Pitt faculty having major, major roles.” At an international meeting Kasper attended last summer in Edinburgh, Scotland, two Pitt faculty — Eileen Chasens and Margaret Rosenzweig — were among those being inducted into the Sigma International Nurse Researcher Hall of Fame, out of 32 overall.
Kasper also has been impressed by the infrastructure in place at Pitt to support new ideas and opportunities — “world class support for just about everything,” she said.
Right now, she’s following the first step of the nursing process — assessment. She’s going through all the programs, meeting with the chairs and program directors, and finding out what their needs are and what they view as their challenges. She wants to rely upon the expertise of the faculty to really start looking at what they can do, how they can expand on what they do, and “give them permission to create.”
There also is a lot of discussion around a new building for the School of Nursing and what should go into it. Kasper said there are two sites being debated. “There’s a lot of very thorough and methodical assessment and planning right now, for things like how much office space, projected student enrollment, … how the program is going to expand over time, so you can build an appropriate structure to meet the needs.”
Focus on research
Kasper will be looking at how to better support the school’s research mission.
She said Pitt Nursing researchers are already in the top 10, and the school has a chance to give the top university research programs — at Johns Hopkins and the University of Pennsylvania — “a run for their money.”
“The faculty are that good. The students are that good,” she said. “We just have to do a little better getting the PR and the media out there.”
The faculty are very humble, Kasper said, even though they are doing research that sometimes changes international practices.
She’d also like to see an increase in endowments. “We have a really significant need for endowed chairs, endowed professorships,” she said. “I think that’s very much needed here for not only recruiting faculty but actually giving faculty the resources that they need to be able to carry out their very unique and valuable scholarship.”
In addition, a Pitt program that allows undergraduate nursing students to get involved in research is already pretty uncommon, and Kasper would like to see it expand.
The acute need for nurses at all levels means there’s demand for students coming out of the bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs.
Kasper said there could be some expansion at the Oakland and regional campuses of bachelor degree students and also of direct admit programs that allow students to come out with a master’s degree on an accelerated timeline.
There’s also a national shortage of primary care providers, such as nurse practitioners, psych nurse practitioners, gerontology nurse practitioners and midwives, Kasper said. “Those are just crucial to the delivery of health.” And there is a need for research scientists “which drive the discipline and provide much of the faculty for major R1 universities.”
Kasper would like to be able to enroll more students, but this is a challenge because of the faculty shortage in nursing. Recruiting more top-notch faculty to expand student capacity might mean poaching from other top schools.
“There are fabulous students here, and I think one of the just amazing things is how many applications come in for this program,” she said. About 160 students are admitted on the Oakland campus each year out of around 2,700 applications. “So the students coming here are the best of the best. And when you have that caliber student, matched with the high caliber of faculty, you really truly have the opportunity to go above and beyond regular curriculum. You’re able to provide unique experiences for them to really mentor the students into the upper echelons of nursing and leadership and science that will impact healthcare and the profession for decades to come.”
She’s also like to expand the school’s international footprint, which fits into Pitt’s mission. “It’s always very exciting to have international students and it’s very exciting to have our students have those international experiences in nursing.”
Welcome to Pittsburgh
Kasper is a native of Chicago and spent time in the Baltimore area as a senior nurse executive and senior research scientist in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Nursing Services, and professor and chair in the Daniel K. Inouye Graduate School of Nursing at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md.
She said she’s loving being in Pittsburgh, which she finds a cross between Chicago and Baltimore. Her family has its roots in Belarus, and she said, “I’m just so impressed by finding shelves and shelves of pierogi in the grocery store.”
There is one thing she misses from New Mexico. “I could use a little more sun.”
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-244-4042.
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