Dorrie K. Fontaine has been appointed to a second five-year term as dean of the University of Virginia School of Nursing. Fontaine, the Sadie Heath Cabaniss Professor of Nursing, has led the school since 2008 and is the founder of its Compassionate Care Initiative.
“Dorrie Fontaine has provided outstanding leadership for the School of Nursing,” said Executive Vice President and Provost John D. Simon. “I’m pleased that she will have an opportunity to continue building on that momentum. Dorrie has proven her effectiveness as an administrator, innovator, fund-raiser and contributor to the vibrancy and academic excellence of the School of Nursing and the University overall.”
Fontaine has shepherded the school through a series of physical and academic transitions, including the renovation of McLeod Hall, a $3.5 million overhaul of the school’s trademark Mary Morton Parsons Clinical Simulation Learning Center and the opening of two new centers, the Rural and Global Health Care Center and the Center for Interprofessional Education, or ASPIRE (Academic Strategic Partnerships for Interprofessional Research and Education).
She was instrumental in the school’s receipt of a transformational $5 million gift earlier this year from Bill and Joanne Conway for the novel, fast-track to nursing Clinical Nurse Leader master’s program, and an integral part of planning the $12 million gift from Sonia and Paul Tudor Jones in 2012 that established U.Va.’s Contemplative Sciences Center. Fontaine’s work also helped establish the Bjoring Center for Nursing Historical Inquiry – one of just four such nurse history centers in the world. In total, she has raised more than $24 million for the school since her appointment.
Fontaine has dealt with a wave of faculty retirements – roughly a third of the school’s professors have retired over the last five years – amid a national scarcity of new nursing academics and researchers. By cultivating a positive, healthy work environment, however, she’s attracted a dozen new professors over the last two years, including a host of faculty who hold joint appointments in the Nursing School and other disciplines across Grounds.
Building on the school’s interprofessional focus – an educational initiative that brings together nursing and medical students in practice to nurture collaborative, team-based care and communication – Fontaine has built many bridges between nursing and faculty in the College of Arts & Sciences, the School of Architecture, the Darden School of Business and McIntire School of Commerce, as well as a host of entities within the U.Va. Health System.
Under Fontaine’s leadership, the Nursing School has doubled the size of both its Clinical Nurse Leader master’s program and its RN to BSN program. This year, she established a new program with the Virginia Community College System to guarantee baccalaureate entry to nurses with associate’s degrees, a direct reply to the Institute of Medicine’s 2010 mandate that 80 percent of the nation’s RNs be baccalaureate-educated by the year 2020 and a boon to the U.Va. Medical Center, which aims to fortify its own population of baccalaureate-educated nursing staff through the program.
Fontaine has spoken tirelessly about the interconnectedness between healthy work environments and safe, high quality, compassionate patient care, and teaches her students ways to bolster their personal resilience through mindfulness practices, meditation and yoga. Through the Compassionate Care Initiative, she regularly convenes workshops, panel discussions and lectures for students, clinicians and faculty aiming to bolster the quality of their own compassionate practice and their personal resilience in concrete and meaningful ways.
“During my tenure, I’ve emphasized routes to compassionate care, the importance of interprofessional education and why creating a healthy work environment for faculty, staff and students promotes humans’ ability to flourish,” Fontaine said. “Though each of these strategies is distinct, together they work to cultivate empathic, academically sound, resilient nurses who offer the very best in safe, quality care for their patients – while remembering to care for themselves as well.
“Nursing burnout is among the most costly forces at play in nursing – and it impacts lives, attitudes, infection and error rates – and of course hospitals’ bottom lines,” she added. “We’ve looked at the ingredients of the best nurses who offer compassionate, high-quality care, and we’ve learned we must teach students that academics and research must earn equal footing with their own cultivation of empathy and kindness with patients, their families and their colleagues, as well as themselves. If we can do that we will profoundly impact a health care system that desperately needs change, compassion, kindness – and strength.”
U.S. News & World Report ranks the U.Va. School of Nursing among the top 2 percent of nursing schools in the nation. The school has enjoyed a four-fold increase in applicants over the last dozen years, and its most recent application cycle was the most competitive in its 112-year history, with more than 10 applicants for every undergraduate spot. Since 2008, the school’s undergraduate and graduate populations have both expanded by 8 percent overall, while nurse practitioner programs – part of the school’s lineup of master’s degree programs – have grown by a third.