A Renaissance in Nursing Education: Thriving in a New Era

Article excerpt

JUST DAYS AFTER THE TERRORIST ATTACKS OF SEPTEMBER 11, THE NATIONAL LEAGUE FOR NURSING CONVENED IN BALTIMORE FOR THE NLN EDUCATION SUMMIT 2001. More than 700 members, friends, and colleagues from schools of nursing throughout the United States and Canada -- and indeed, even from Australia -- joined together to exchange ideas and learn. Miraculously, this was the "best Summit ever," a tribute to the mission of the NLN and the role this organization plays in the development of quality nursing education at all levels. > For many years, it has been apparent that nursing education must help determine trends and respond to new conditions in an "ever-changing health care environment." Within the course of one dreadful day, a new era began for the United States. The nurse educators at the NLN Summit 2001 were well aware of the significance of the meetings theme, for to thrive in this new era, faculty must work together as never before, sharing research and scholarship, ideas and energy. The meeting in Baltimore provided an extraordinary opportunity to begin this work in earnest.

At a regularly scheduled meeting held in conjunction with the Summit, the NLN Board of Governors unanimously passed a Declaration of Nursing Preparedness in a National Disaster. The declaration highlights NLN's commitment to excellence in the nursing workforce and calls on nursing and nursing education programs to recommit to three goals:

* Student understanding of man-made disasters and the role of nursing in managing such crises.

* Research programs to develop knowledge about disaster response.

* An emphasis on diversity and compassion for all human beings.

The Board further resolved to continue the NLN commitment to excellence in the preparation of the nursing workforce within the context of national need, and to collaborate with other organizations and the nursing leadership to advance the preparedness of the nursing profession to support the nation. Thus, with heightened emotion and an urgent sense of purpose, the work of this extraordinary Summit began.

There was no way to know prior to the Opening Ceremonies on September 20 just how many nurse educators would attend. With NLN headquarters a mere three blocks from Ground Zero, telephone and e-mail communications had been down. But the room was full as Dr. Ruth Corcoran, NLN CEO, and Diann Snyder, president of the Maryland League for Nursing, extended greetings. Representing the University System of Maryland where he is chancellor, Dr. Donald Langenberg commented, "One of the things I have learned about nurses is that they show up and they get the job done."

Dr. Barbara Heller, dean of the University of Maryland School of Nursing and a member of the NLN Board of Governors, barely arrived in time to greet the crowd. She had been in China while plane travel in and out of the United States had been suspended. Representing the state of Maryland, Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend warned of a serious staffing problem in America's hospitals. "One message from September 11," she said, "is that we neglect our health care professions at our peril." Ms. Townsend described efforts in Maryland to alleviate the nursing shortage by increasing funding for nursing education and scholarships.

Highlighting this Summit were two plenary addresses by distinguished educators from Teachers College, Columbia University, in New York City. The keynote speaker was Dr. Arthur Levine, the current Teachers College president, who addressed "The Coming Revolution in Higher Education." Isabel Maitland Stewart, who spent 39 years at Teachers College as a professor and director of the Department of Nursing Education, spoke on "The Winds of Change: Nursing Education Then and Now." Although Miss Stewart died in 1963, her alter ego is Dr. M. Patricia Donahue, professor and associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Iowa College of Nursing. …