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Meet Trish Morton - New Dean of the College of Nursing

Patricia G. Morton, R.N., Ph.D. — a nationally known expert in nursing education, critical care and cardiovascular nursing —took the helm as dean of the University of Utah College of Nursing earlier this year.

Morton arrived in Utah after most recently working as a professor and associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Maryland School of Nursing and a Robert Wood Johnson Executive Nurse Fellow. She is a board-certified acute care nurse practitioner (ACNP-BC) and Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing (FAAN). She is also editor of the Journal of Professional Nursing (JPN), a scholarly journal published by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

Dean Morton Nursing

Now midway through her first semester at the University of Utah, Morton recently gave her first address to students and faculty at an open house. She also discussed her thoughts on the nursing field with NewsFeed in a Q&A.

What are your goals for the College of Nursing?

The goals for the College of Nursing build on the past excellence in the college. First in the area of teaching, we want to continue with our excellent programs that prepare nurses for entry into practice, for advance practice, for the development of researchers to advance the science of nursing and for those who will be bringing evidence into practice. The goal for our research mission is to continue in the excellent tradition we have at the college of developing the science of nursing and discovering new knowledge about the care of patients. Another goal for us is to continue faculty practice, in which faculty serve as teachers and practioners –they're out in the real world caring for patients and making a difference while also educating students. Finally, we have the goal of service: Service to our college, service to our university, service to our community and service to our profession.

Health care reform is a hot topic and an ongoing discussion right now. What is nursing's role in the debate?

As we move forward with health care reform, we're going to need expert nurses in the area of health promotion, wellness and disease prevention. These nurses will be key leaders in providing primary care services. As we have so many uninsured patients that will be moving into the health care system, we'll need lots of primary care providers to help care for those patients. In the College of Nursing, we're looking at trying to increase our enrollments in the primary care program so we can help provide care for all of these uninsured patients and also to help provide the wellness and health of the population as a whole.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing nursing schools today?

Some of the biggest challenges we face are related to fiscal constraints. We're coming out of a recession and that's been difficult for higher education. We have a severe faculty shortage nationwide, in part because we don't have the funding to hire the entire faculty we need. Because of the faculty shortage, we aren't able to admit all the qualified students that apply to nursing education. The nation desperately needs nurses, but we're not able to admit all of the qualified people who want to become nurses to our schools because of those fiscal constraints. There's an ongoing need for resources to address those challenges.

What changes would you like to see in the nursing education field?

I would like to move along our journey into the idea of inter-professional education. Historically, all health science students are educated in their own silo. They come together in the workplace and often don't understand each other's roles, have conflicting communication styles and don't work well as teams. If we could truly do inter-professional education right from the start, we'd better understand each other's contributions to health care and would be able to build more effective team-based care.

How have changes in higher education presented challenges for nursing?

Higher education is shifting in its definition of what is considered success. In the past, in higher education we bragged about admission numbers and enrollment numbers. Now the challenge is, "What is the value of education?" People are questioning tuition. They want to know, what are your graduation rates? What are your retention rates? Do your students get jobs? Do they pass exams after they come out of education? I'm proud to say in nursing, we have wonderful recruitment, retention and graduation rates. We have excellent scores on licensure examinations and certification examinations. This allows us to demonstrate the value of nursing in higher education.