Nursing school’s numbers, rankings have grown during dean’s tenure


When Jacqueline Dunbar-Jacob became dean of Pitt’s School of Nursing in 2001, the school was receiving about 250 applications for 60 undergraduate positions.

For this fall’s class, more than 2,500 people from throughout the United States applied for 190 spots on the Oakland campus. And another 70 to 80 are being admitted to the Pitt Nursing programs on the regional campuses — Johnstown and Greensburg — each year.

“The faculty and the students in the School of Nursing continue to be outstanding,” Dunbar-Jacob said as she prepares to step down at the end of June. “I just feel very proud and very honored to have been able to spend this time with them.”

The rankings bear out the dean’s praise. Pitt’s bachelor of science in nursing program is ranked seventh in the nation out of 694 schools, according to U.S. News & World Report, as well as first in online master’s in nursing and seventh in doctor of nursing practice. The Pitt nursing school also was ranked 21st worldwide by the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2022.

In late September, Dunbar-Jacob announced she was stepping down as of June 30, 2022, followed by a 12-month sabbatical and retirement effective June 30, 2023, after more than 20 years as dean of the School of Nursing. Maureen Lichtveld, dean of the Graduate School of Public Health, has chaired the search committee with the assistance of executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates.

In addition to her role as dean, Dunbar-Jacob is a distinguished professor of nursing and professor of psychology, epidemiology and occupational therapy. She was a faculty member at Pitt for 17 years before becoming dean and was founding director of Pitt’s Center for Nursing Research. She sat down with the University Times earlier this month to discuss her time at Pitt and the future of the School of Nursing (Her responses have been edited for conciseness and clarity.)

Why have you decided to step down now?

I think it’s a combination of things. I’ve been in the dean’s position for 21 years, and that’s a pretty long time. It’s really time for someone else to come in and and take on the School of Nursing, and it’s time for me to be thinking about what my next steps are — retirement being one of them. I’ve also been in the School of Nursing since 1987, so it’s been a good and a long run. Time to be looking at other things.

Are you actually retiring or are you going to teach?

I’m going to take a one-year sabbatical. And I’m anticipating that sabbatical is going to be focused on writing papers that have either gotten partially started but not finished, or some new thoughts that I have. And then at the end of that year, I will retire. I’m also anticipating continuing some work with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, both during my sabbatical and hopefully beyond.

What has changed the most in your time as dean in the field in nursing?

I think we’ve seen several changes in nursing over the past two decades. The scope of responsibility for nurses has expanded significantly, the scope of practice. We’re seeing more nurses doing more advanced work than I think we saw in the past. At the time that I came into the deanship, we had just finished a period of reorganization within the healthcare system, and there wasn’t the same level of demand for nurses that we’re seeing now. Demand for nurses in a variety of positions has really grown, particularly in non-acute care settings — nurse practitioners in primary care, nurses in care coordination, in home care.

What has changed with the school in those 20 years?

We’ve had quite a few changes in the school over those 20 years. The first change is as the demand for nurses and for nurses in a variety of practice settings has grown, so have we grown. I like to tell people that the first year I was the dean, we admitted 60 students into our undergraduate program out of 250 applications. This fall, we’ll be admitting approximately 190 students out of 2,500 applications, so we’ve definitely grown as a school.

We have converted our masters advanced practice programs to doctor of nursing practice. The doctor of nursing practice was introduced in 2004 as a new model in nursing, and we were one of the early adopters and graduated our first DNP person in 2007. And currently, all of our advance practice is at the doctoral level.

We have grown our research portfolio. At the present time, we have seven focus areas of research within the school with small hubs of research to cluster faculty around common topics. 

In 2001, we had students going to study abroad opportunities — one to England and one to Italy — and we have significantly grown our international activities. We have multiple study abroad sites and a large number of students, comparatively, who go on study abroad.

We now have visiting scholars who are faculty from other universities around the world coming to spend six months to a year with us as a part of their sabbatical learning. We have doctoral students who come to us for a year in their doctoral studies from other countries as well as enrolling international students in our programs.

We worked extensively with three universities — two in China and one in Kazakhstan — on collaborative initiatives, and we have faculty who are working internationally with colleagues on various types of projects, basically addressing improvement of nursing practice. Our international portfolio has grown substantially and we’re now ranked 21st in the world.

What do you attribute Pitt’s high ranking in so many of the nursing programs to?

We attribute that to intentionally focusing on quality. We look at the metrics that define quality for nursing programs, and we work very hard to be sure that we meet those metrics.

Are you getting applicants from all over the place or is it still mostly in state?

All over the United States. On any given year, it’s maybe 45 percent to 55 percent division between in state and out of state — very close to an even split on the Oakland campus.

On the regional campuses, we get a larger proportion of in-state students. … That’s the other thing that has changed over this period of time. In 2001, we had the Oakland campus baccalaureate program and that was it. And over that period of time, we opened a campus first at Johnstown (2009) and then we opened a campus in Greensburg (2017).

What happens with the students on the regional campus — when we opened the programs, this was a requirement — they pay tuition to Greensburg (or Johnstown) and the nursing faculty are paid by the regional campus. The curriculum is our campus curriculum. So the curriculum at the regionals is exactly the same as the curriculum at Oakland. When those students are seniors, their academic records will transfer to the Oakland campus and they will be reviewed by the student services people on the Oakland campus for qualification for graduation. They’ll basically graduate from the Oakland campus.

What do you think are the challenges facing the school now?

Number one, and it’s always a challenge when you’re doing well, and that’s to keep doing well — to sustain the quality that’s been established by the faculty and students. Secondly, the challenge is providing enough graduates who are well prepared to meet the excessive demand that there is at present for nurses.

Right now, we’re seeing — it’s getting called a shortage, but it’s an issue of people leaving the profession at this point after the pandemic experience and creating enough graduates to compensate for those folks who are leaving the profession as well as the usual numbers of people that we need go be providing. I think that’s another challenge.

I think a third challenge, quite frankly, is more at the legislative area and that is advocating for full practice authority for our advanced practice providers, which more than half of states in the United States now offer, but in Pennsylvania, we’re not there.

A nurse practitioner or a nurse midwife or a nurse anesthetist needs to have a collaborative agreement with a physician in order to practice in Pennsylvania. You could go north to New York and the nurse practitioner could set up a primary care practice and open shop and deliver care without that necessity. And as I say, more than half of the state in the United States now have that authorization. We’re hoping for that in Pennsylvania because it’s certainly attractive to people who have advanced practice degrees to go to states where they can fully practice according to their training and licensure.

We’re seeing more and more nurses in hospital leadership roles. Why do you think that is?

As I mentioned, the scope of practice of nurses has increased over this last few decades, and the level of education of nurses has increased over the last few decades — strongly advocated by what used to be the National Institute of Medicine that’s now  the National Academy of Medicine and their report on nursing. … I think it’s because of growth in scope of practice,  nurses have been getting higher and higher administrative positions within hospitals and within other areas in health care as well, not just hospitals. They’re getting that experience and their capabilities are being recognized by the boards. They come with both a clinical background, a depth of knowledge about the processes within the institution, and also —particularly as we’re looking more at nurses with doctoral education — with an academic background that supports strong leadership.

I’ve heard that nursing schools are having a shortage of people who will teach. Why do you think that is?

There are two things happening. Nursing schools have historically relied upon the nurses in practice or who have been in practice to work within the school as clinical instructors. … What we’re seeing now is those nurses who are in practice are leaving practice or they’re exhausted from the work that they had to do during the pandemic, so they’re less likely to be looking for added responsibility. And the second thing that’s happening is that we have not seen growth in Ph.D. programs in nursing for over a decade. We’re simply not producing enough people to go into academics. And at the same time, we’re seeing a large cluster of nursing faculty at retirement age. To increase the numbers of new nurses we can educate, we definitely need faculty who are able to do that.

Is Pitt facing that problem. Are there a lot of people within the school who are close to retirement?

We have a number of people close to retirement. I think we’re at a point within the School of Nursing where we have a nice distribution of ages for our faculty, so we have some young faculty in their early 30s, older faculty in their 70s and everything in between. I think the retirement issue is is not going to be like a cliff, but it’s going to be something that’s just continuous over time.

We are challenged by having sufficient numbers of clinical faculty. … We would hope that some of those folks who were thinking about stepping out of nursing might step into academics as opposed to leaving nursing all together.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at or 724-244-4042.


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