Health Sciences Report Summer 2004

Here, There, Everywhere
By Cindy Fazzi

Photos by Tim Kelly

The name Linda K. Amos is everywhere. You see it in memos and hear it in meetings across the University of Utah Health Sciences Center. There’s a College of Nursing leadership fellowship program and a university-wide Distinguished Service Award for Women bearing the name. Talk to anybody who has been in the nursing education field for the past two decades, and you’ll find out that the name is an institution.

So it is almost a surprise to see how casual and unassuming the person behind the name is. The walls of her tidy office are filled with diplomas and awards that attest to her exceptional career. But when asked which of those she cherishes most, Amos glanced at a framed picture of herself and a group of nursing students. “The greatest reward comes from the students,” she said.

Amos, associate vice president for health sciences since 1998, is busy managing multimillion-dollar building projects, supervising information technical services and emergency preparedness, and coordinating interdisciplinary activities involving the medical school and the colleges of Nursing, Pharmacy, and Health. But her passion for nursing education remains unwavering. It was evident in the way her head perked up—the earnest expression on her face turning into a smile—when asked about her 20 years as dean of the College of Nursing.

Amos joined the U as dean and professor in 1980 with an impressive background that includes degrees from Ohio State University (B.S. in nursing, M.S. in medical-surgical nursing) and Boston University (Ed.D. in systems development and adaptations). She started her career as a nurse in an emergency room and at a tuberculosis hospital in her native Ohio.

For someone who grew up wanting to be a music teacher, Amos’s experience with poor and chronically ill patients convinced her that she had set aside her saxophone for a greater, more urgent cause. “I was surprised at the number of people who needed health care but had no access to it. That really bothered me, and it still bothers me today,” she said.

Amos also saw the loneliness and isolation of tuberculosis patients. “I felt very sorry for them. I felt like they lost out a lot,” she said. It became clear to her that, while caring for individual patients fulfilled an immediate need, her impact as a nurse was ultimately limited. The experience galvanized her into seeking a role that would make a difference in patients’ lives on a broader scale. For Amos, nursing education was the answer: “I believe that the best way to influence delivery of patient care is by improving education,” she said.

It was no accident that Amos’s next step was academia. She taught at Ohio State and University of New Mexico. Later, she was a professor at Boston University School of Nursing, where she also served as interim dean for a year and dean for six years.

Then came an offer from Utah. “I was drawn to the whole attitude of collaboration here among the colleges and schools in the health sciences,” said Amos. “Of course, Utah’s sunsets and the outdoors also attracted me.”

The college that Amos inherited was struggling. “It had $45,000 in a development fund and not a single endowed chair. Research was minimal, and there were few specialties in the graduate program,” Amos recalled.

The job was decidedly tough, but the dean’s dogged determination and her ability to bring people together helped turn things around. “Dean Amos was always thinking ahead, assembling facts, requesting input from staff, and always allowing plenty of time for reflection and revision,” said Sue E. Huether, R.N., Ph.D., associate professor and associate dean of clinical services. “Her enthusiasm and caring do wonders for self-esteem, morale, and productivity.”

Indeed, the college achieved unparalleled growth and success under Amos’s leadership. New graduate-level programs were developed in neonatal nurse practitioner, women’s health, geriatric nurse practitioner, occupational health nursing, and nursing informatics, among others.

Research became a priority, boosting the college’s national ranking. At the end of Amos’s deanship in 2000, the college was ranked 25th in the nation among nursing schools for National Institutes of Health funding, receiving more than $1 million in grants that year.

The college’s development fund for scholarships and other activities rose to $2.5 million. Amos helped create five endowed chairs and led fundraising efforts that generated another $7.5 million.

Amos’s talent in drawing people together generated partnerships with various government agencies, community groups, and hospitals. Her interest in providing cost-effective health care spurred a number of faculty practices in community clinics, offering services that range from midwifery to cancer care.

In all of these, Amos never forgot the students. Sandra Haak, A.P.R.N., Ph.D., associate professor, was a doctoral student when Amos was dean. She remembers fondly a lecture by Amos because of the bond it created between dean and students. “She shared a lesson from her mentor. She said, ‘First, keep your home life in order.’” That simple lesson has stayed with Haak all these years.

Amos’s influence as a teacher, dean, and leader went beyond Utah. Through the different positions she held in the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), she initiated a number of reforms, but she is best remembered by colleagues for her role in raising nursing accreditation standards. She spearheaded the formation of the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), AACN’s accreditation arm. “I felt that existing standards were outdated. They did not challenge the old ways of thinking,” said Amos, who’s also a leading force in advocating for technological advances in nursing.

Deans across the country were wary of disrupting the status quo, and it took relentless effort on Amos’s part to convince them that change was necessary. “Those were difficult times,” said Rachel Booth, Ph.D., dean of the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing. “But Linda handles conflict very well in a low-key, but firm manner. She knows how to take both positive and negative points without alienating anybody.”

In 2000, the U.S. Department of Education officially recognized CCNE as a national agency for the accreditation of baccalaureate and graduate nursing education programs. It represented the first reform in nursing accreditation in 70 years.

Maureen R. Keefe, R.N., Ph.D., who succeeded Amos as dean in 2001, said she knew Amos by reputation long before joining the U. “It’s not always easy to follow such an able and popular leader who has held a deanship for 20 years, but Linda has worked to ensure my success in the role.”

Amos remains interested in national developments in nursing education. She hopes that the entry-level educational preparation for nursing will be elevated to doctoral level. “Look at medicine, pharmacy, and physical therapy—all of these professions start with at least a master’s degree,” she said. “Nurses can be so much more effective with more knowledge.”

In the meantime, 63-year-old Amos has her sights on other, more personal goals. The idea of retirement has many attractions, including the chance to “haul out the old sax (alto)” and do “some serious fishing (rod and reel).” Amos, whose watercolor paintings decorate the third floor of University Hospital, wants to spend more time painting and to write about her experiences in—what else—nursing education.

Learning from a Leader

You can take Linda K. Amos out of the U College of Nursing, but you can’t take the college out of Amos. And, that’s the way she wants it.

Two years ago, the Linda K. Amos Leadership Fellowship Program was created to offer outstanding nursing graduate students a chance to pursue leadership projects. Every year, two students are awarded up to $10,000 each to implement their projects. They also get individualized mentoring from Amos.

“I like to have ongoing interaction with students,” said Amos of her decision to fund the program. “Given the small amount of scholarship money available, I thought it would be great to help some students financially and also give them an opportunity to learn a little bit from me.”

The fellowship is funded by the Ida May “Dottie” Barnes, R.N., and D. Keith Barnes, M.D., Presidential Endowed Chair in the College of Nursing. Amos selects the fellows based on the following criteria: good academic standing, leadership potential, professional objectives, and proposed fellowship project.

In addition, Amos funds a Leadership Scholarship Fund named after her, which provides scholarships annually at the discretion of the college’s dean and the scholarship committee.

Alexa Doig, R.N., M.S., a doctoral student, said a lecture by Amos in 2002 discussing the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) inspired her to apply for the fellowship. Doig’s proposal to explore nursing leadership on a national level through an internship with the association was accepted.

Doig met nursing deans from across the country at the AACN’s annual meeting last November. She has attended an educational conference for bachelor-level faculty and another one for doctoral faculty through the fellowship. She also will join an AACN team on an accreditation site visit as an observer.

“Leadership does not come naturally for most people, including me. The fellowship gives me the chance to learn necessary skills and techniques,” said Doig. “Linda has been very supportive. She watches my progress closely.”

Michael C. Desjardins, R.N., a nurse at the University’s Neuropsychiatric Institute and a master’s degree candidate, has been awarded a fellowship for two years. “Linda has influenced me a lot, not only because of her knowledge, but because she’s an incredible person with a huge heart,” he said.

For his project, Desjardins teamed up with Amos in developing a presentation about interdisciplinary education and its influence on quality patient care. The two made their presentation at the National Student Nurses Association convention in Phoenix last year. Desjardins, vice president of the Utah Nurses Association and a board member of the Nursing Organizations Alliance, said Amos continues to be a role model for him.

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