Educating Nurses: Nursing School Dean Jeanette Lancaster to Step Down After 19 Years

December 07, 2007
Dec. 7, 2007 — Nursing School Dean Jeanette Lancaster is the longest serving dean at the University. During her tenure, which began in 1989, she has witnessed many changes and challenges in nursing education. Lancaster’s leadership has extended beyond the School of Nursing and the University. In addition to appointed positions at the state level, she is currently the President of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing and was recently recognized at Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing’s 39th Biennial Convention with the Melanie C. Dreher Outstanding Dean Award.

As she prepares to step down next summer, Lancaster took time from her busy schedule to reflect on the state of nursing education and some of her accomplishments.

Q. How has the role of a nurse shifted since you became dean and what initiatives have you been able to put in place to address those changes and prepare students for new roles in nursing?

Nursing has changed so significantly. You hear about nurses being caring and compassionate and that’s true. Nurses need to be and should be, but nurses also have to be very scientific and technologically sophisticated.

I think back to when I first came, we had a laboratory where we taught students the skills of nursing. Now we have computerized simulated mannequins for teaching interventions. We were one of the early schools to have a model intensive care unit.

The University of Virginia School of Nursing stands among the top 5 percent in the nation and is ranked 19th by U.S. News & World Report. Two of its graduate programs are currently listed in the U.S. News Top Ten.
We have some really terrific, ongoing initiatives with the Medical Center. Our partnership was not nearly as strong in 1989. We developed a strong partnership in agreeing on mutual goals, and we have done and continue to do some fabulous work together. Several years ago the then Chief Nursing Officer and I were talking and we said, you know, there’s going to be another nursing shortage. She developed with a considerable amount of central funding a six-month mentoring program for new graduates because the key in hospitals is retention. Now we are part of a national group that has a one-year postbaccalaureate residency. I think a lot of things we’ve developed together with the Medical Center are real models for other places.

Q. A shortage of both nurses and nursing faculty are growing issues across the nation. What have you been able to do during your tenure as dean to address these issues?

Well, the biggest issue with the shortage of nurses is the shortage of faculty because without faculty you just can’t increase your enrollment.

I think one of the things that proved to be very helpful is that in Virginia the schools of nursing typically work well together. We learned a long time ago that we can get more support from the state if we speak with one voice. We were able to get money to support loan forgiveness programs for people getting doctoral degrees and it’s a very generous program.

The University of Virginia School of Nursing stands among the top 5 percent in the nation and is ranked 19th by U.S. News & World Report. Two of its graduate programs are currently listed in the U.S. News Top Ten.
The thing that I think the faculty feel best about is that we were able to convince the governor to put an amendment in his budget for a 10 percent raise for nursing faculty in Virginia state schools and that’s been helpful. This November our faculty got a 10 percent raise, plus were eligible for merit raises.

Q. What sets U.Va.’s School of Nursing apart from other nursing schools? What are the unique programs and why are they important to nursing?

As I travel around the country, the one thing people tell me is students who graduate from our school typically are better prepared clinically and they’re better leaders. A few years ago an officer in the Navy Nurse Corps e-mailed me, to tell me that she had several new graduates reporting to her, and one of them was one of our undergraduates whom I had known. She said your graduate stands out among the others, and … she’s making a better officer because she knows how to lead.

I think the other thing is that our faculty have not been afraid historically to be innovators. This school started preparing nurse practitioners in the mid ’70s and that was early in the nurse practitioner movement and that was a bold thing to do. This school was the first in Virginia to have a Ph.D. program. We’re the first to have a Doctor of Nursing Practice Program, and we have been this year the first to seek approval from the Virginia Board of Nursing for our master’s entry into nursing program, the Clinical Nurse Leader.

Q. What challenges do you envision in the future for nursing education and the UVA School of Nursing?

The biggest challenge nursing schools are going to face in the next few years, and we’re not alone, [is retirement]. Nationally we have a large cohort of faculty who are going to reach 65. The median age to retire is 62.5, about 17 percent of our current faculty are 58 or older, so we’re going to lose people who have really been the backbone of this school. It’s happening in all the schools around us, so trying to recruit from one another is going to get more significant. I think the pressure that the profession is going to have is to continue holding to standards for education. People say, “we just need a nurse,” and in my opinion, just a nurse is just inadequate. With the level of illness that patients present today, they need a great nurse, a really skilled nurse, and I think we can’t shorten the time it takes to prepare a really skilled nurse.

— By Jane Ford

Alumna Establishes Jeanette Lancaster Fund for Faculty Excellence

U.Va. School of Nursing Dean Jeanette Lancaster was asked recently what one fundraising aspiration she had yet to fulfill during her tenure. Her easy answer: she wished she had been able to raise more money to support faculty. Her job as dean has been an annual exercise in stretching resources to the max, she said; if there was a larger pool of money to support pilot research projects, innovative teaching initiatives and faculty development, then she would be much better able to stimulate and reward excellence.

It was a timely conversation. Nursing School alumna Rebecca Ruegger had been pondering how she could meaningfully celebrate Lancaster’s extraordinary accomplishments. In a fall meeting, the School of Nursing Advisory Board announced that Ruegger gave $500,000 to establish the Jeanette Lancaster Fund for Faculty Excellence. Others are being encouraged to contribute to this endowment fund to raise the invested principal to $1 million. The goal is to have the funding in place by the time Lancaster steps down as dean after 19 years of service.

Ruegger’s gift also recognizes her own experience as a student and the supportive connection she felt with her faculty mentors. “I feel honored and fortunate to be able to do this,” Ruegger said. “I’ve been so inspired by Jeanette as a nurse and a nursing leader.

It’s amazing to me that one person can show a level of leadership that is helping to address the nursing shortage.”

While humbled by such generosity, Lancaster said she is thrilled by the gift. “By establishing an endowment for faculty excellence, Rebecca has responded to one of my most heartfelt desires.”