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Establishing a Higher Level of Care

GW Medical Center Launches School of Nursing

In the coming years, the U.S. is expected to face a national shortage of nurses twice as large as any experienced since the mid-1960s. Many experts believe the need for more nurses will intensify as baby boomers enter their golden years, and as health care reform allows millions of additional Americans to access primary care services. Moreover, many women and men in the current nursing workforce are also reaching retirement age.

GW, which has educated nurses for more than a century, recently took a significant step to help address this serious issue in the nation’s health care system. At its May 2010 meeting, the GW Board of Trustees voted to move the former Department of Nursing Education out of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences and establish a new School of Nursing (SON).

“We are thrilled to launch the School of Nursing, which will give our programs the national recognition they need and deserve to reach their full potential,” says Dean Jean Johnson, Ph.D., F.A.A.N., who was selected as one of the school’s founding administrators, along with Ellen Dawson, Ph.D., A.N.P., a new senior associate dean at the school. The act of establishing a new school “demonstrates that the University believes nursing education is important to its future. This is a big step forward for us, one that brings with it the potential to recruit more outstanding faculty and students, and improve our rankings,” Johnson explains.

Nursing education at GW reached this point, says Johnson, largely thanks to the team she built after her leave of absence in 2002, when she served as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Scholar-in-Residence. The team, including Dawson, who was serving as chair of the Department of Nursing Education, recruited a highly motivated faculty that created outstanding education programs, including the Master of Science in Nursing (M.S.N.) degree, the Doctor of Nursing Practice (D.N.P.) program, and the second degree Bachelor of Science in Nursing (B.S.N.) — a program whose relevance was reflected in a fivefold increase in applications in its first year alone. All three nursing programs have been accredited for the maximum term by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

Most recently, the Department of Nursing Education established a learning laboratory for policy activism through a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant to improve the quality of health care. In addition, Johnson and Dawson have fostered a nationally recognized partnership with the National Committee for Quality Assurance, making GW’s M.S.N. program the only one in the country with a focus on quality improvement.

“In a short period of time we’ve generated a sizable amount of research grant activity,” notes Johnson. “That’s important in academic health. We don’t just educate, we also add new knowledge.”

For Johnson and Dawson, the development of SON is a green light for continued growth. Chief among their priorities are expanding the B.S.N. and the Nurse Practitioner programs, which will help increase the nursing workforce. “As the founding dean of the school, I hold a lot of responsibility,” Johnson admits. “But,” she quickly adds, “everyone in the school shares that sense of responsibility; it’s a big part of why we’ve been so successful.”