College of Nursing: Insight from the Dean

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College of Nursing:  Insight from the Dean




Guest:  Dr. Gail Stuart – Dean, College of Nursing, MUSC

Host:  Dr. Linda Austin – Psychiatry, MUSC


Dr. Linda Austin:  Dr. Gail Stuart is Dean of the College of Nursing here at the Medical University of South Carolina.  Dr. Stuart, there’s a buzz in the air, I think especially with the election of President Obama, about reforming the healthcare system.  How is that going to impact the development of nursing as a profession?


Dr. Gail Stuart:  There is no doubt that the healthcare system is, in many respects, not a system at all.  So, the opportunity for reform is enormous.  And I see two specific areas that I hope will emerge in any healthcare reform that’s established.  The first is much more of an emphasis on prevention and health promotion.  We have to get ahead of the curve in terms of health and well-being in this country, instead of always treating people after they have chronic and tertiary illnesses.  So, an increased emphasis on prevention means more education.  It means getting healthcare providers out in the community where people are well, and helping to keep them well.


Of course, when I think about nursing, that’s exactly what nurses do best.  Nurses are the largest group of healthcare providers, and we have an untapped potential for really releasing all of this wonderful information so people can start taking care of their health better.


The other part that I see, that I think is also going to emerge as more important is patient self-care.  We are living longer, many of us with chronic illnesses that are under control.  We are not going to die from those illnesses necessarily, but we are going to have to learn how to work and live with them.  That responsibility will fall back to patients and families; to learn how to manage their illness and keep themselves in their best quality of life.  Again, I think that’s an ideal role for the nurse.  If you think about how a visit with the nurse may differ from a visit with a physician, nurses do a lot more education.  They talk more about your treatment regimen, how to handle problems, should they arise, rather than having things go downhill fast.  So, I think any healthcare reform has to have more emphasis on prevention and on self-management of your own care.


Dr. Linda Austin:  Does that mean, then, that, in the curriculum at the College of Nursing, you are shaping the curriculum to reflect what you see as the next trends?


Dr. Gail Stuart:  Yes. That’s an exciting thing about being here at MUSC.  Our faculty is on the cutting edge of what’s happening clinically, and what we think will happen in the future.  So, we’re constantly invigorating our curriculum with the concept, for example, of prevention and health promotion, and self-management, so that the nurses we graduate today and tomorrow will be right there and ready to take their place in a reformed healthcare system, as well as the current one.


Dr. Linda Austin:  It occurs to me, also, that, undoubtedly, there will be an increased role for interactive, internet-based, online communication between patients, families, and caregivers, who may be nurses.


Dr. Gail Stuart:  Absolutely.  I think if you look at how our entire society is moving, it’s moving technologically for new information, for resources.  Clearly, by having our programs online, you can see it has infiltrated education, so to speak.  I see a day, for example, instead of itunes, there will be healthtunes, where people will use technology to not only learn more about what is, perhaps, troubling them, but also for diagnosis and assessment.


Dr. Linda Austin:  I have to put in a pitch there. Our 900 podcasts on; I believe we have the largest healthcare library, perhaps, in the world, certainly that I’m aware of, is on itunes.  We get close to a million hits per year on that, so it certainly does seem to be the wave of the future. 


Dr. Gail Stuart:  There’s another role there, of course.  There’s so much information out there that, again, nurses can help patients sort through it:  What are the good Web sites?  Which Web sites, perhaps, aren’t as good?  Where are the podcasts that are valid and provide evidence that’s supported by research?  So, again, it’s almost like, perhaps, there will be too much information, and you need a guide to sort through it.  Nurses are in an ideal role to do that.


Dr. Linda Austin:  Getting back to your first thoughts about nurses in the community in a preventive care educational model, can you give some examples of how of some of your own faculty are already performing in that capacity?


Dr. Gail Stuart:  We have so many exciting community programs.  One, for example, is in relationship to teens; getting teens to learn about their health.  We have a program in which teens access the internet to try to find out information about health that, then, they can share with their families.  That is, really, I think, cutting edge, as just one example.  We also have programs where our nurses go into elementary schools and talk to children about things such as anger management; socialization skills.  We know, for example, with children, if we can teach them early on how to manage their social skills, and how to respond appropriately to stressful situations, we can avoid problems in the future.  So, we have a very vigorous program that goes into the schools, and it’s very well-received.


We are also out in the community with patients who have diabetes, for example.  We help them to take care, particularly, of their legs.  Because, one of the problems with diabetes, that can occur, is that if you don’t have adequate leg care, it can result in amputations.  And so, learning how to take care of your feet and your legs, and any wounds, is another preventive way of not having negative outcomes, and living healthfully with diabetes.


Dr. Linda Austin:  One of the issues on the national agenda, of course, is disparities of care.  Here in South Carolina, our African-American population is often on the short end of healthcare.  And MUSC, generally, I think, has had a great deal of concern, and active intervention, about that.  How about in the College of Nursing?


Dr. Gail Stuart:  We have established a Center for Community Health Partnerships.  Not only is this unique in our focus on communities and disparities in care, but it truly is a center that partners with communities to ask them; especially communities that may be struggling with their healthcare issues:  What are the most important problems in your community, and how can we work together to resolve those?  So, this is a newly-formed center.  It’s a university center here at MUSC.  And, I think, in the days ahead, we’re going to see a considerable amount of success in the efforts that they’re undertaking.


Dr. Linda Austin:  Very exciting.  You have so much to, really, be congratulated for.  The College of Nursing is fantastic.  And I’ve been so impressed with the spirit of adventure and inquisitiveness, and initiative, in the nursing faculty that I’ve been talking to.


Dr. Gail Stuart:  It’s a fabulous place to be, either, a student or faculty, staff and, of course, a dean.


Dr. Linda Austin:  Thank you very much, Dr. Stuart.


Dr. Gail Stuart:  Thank you.    

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