A Nurse at Heart: The Journeys and Experiences of Nursing School Deans

Wednesday, 1 August 2012: 1:30 PM

Tammy C. Blass, EdD, MSN, RN
Los Angeles County College of Nursing and Allied Health, Los Angeles, CA

Learning Objective 1: Describe three ways the nursing deans in this study used their prior nursing experiences in performing their role as dean.

Learning Objective 2: Discuss three strategies the nursing school deans in this study used to manage the challenges they faced in performing their role as dean.


This study’s purpose was to understand how nursing school deans’ personal characteristics and nursing background influence how they perform their role and manage challenges as dean.  The conceptual framework, based on role theory and Mintzberg’s (2009) Model of Managing, provided a lens through which the nursing dean’s journey from practitioner to dean and her role as dean could be explored.


This qualitative interview study employed a purposeful sample of 13 Southern California female nursing school deans.  A two-cycle coding process was used to discover themes and patterns that would enhance understanding of their experiences.


The four themes that emerged were: Core: Always a Nurse; Character: Playing the Part; Context: Facing the Issues; and Connection: Creating Solutions.  By connecting with their core as a nurse, the deans drew upon their nursing experiences in performing their role and creating solutions to challenges.  This core, shaped by their strong sense of self as a nurse, journey to the deanship, and gender influenced who they became as dean and the parts they played.  The challenges, which they perceived as being mainly related to student, faculty, and resource concerns, required that they adapt and blend their roles to create solutions.  Solutions focused on meeting students’ needs and involved getting resources and results, setting the course and boundaries, letting others have the glory and control, and netting internal and external bonds.  


The deans in this study built strong connections to create a secure net for their students and ensure their success. Recommendations for policy and practice include empowering nursing deans to remain connected to clinical practice, preparing future deans, and advocating for the profession.  Although the nursing dean’s professional journey has taken her away from clinical practice where she began her career, she will always be a nurse at heart.