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New KU School of Nursing leader building strong foundation to support big ideas

In her first six weeks, the new dean of KU School of Nursing has engaged in a listening tour designed to ferret out opportunities and challenges.

Dean Giddens stands smiling, in a brightly lit hallway, with her arms crossed
New dean Jean Foret Giddens, Ph.D., FAAN, is a lifelong Jayhawk as well as the leader of the most prestigious organization in nursing education in the United States.

In some ways, the new dean of the University of Kansas School of Nursing is not new at all. Her parents — a doctor and a nurse — met at KU Medical Center long ago when the hospital and the university were one. She grew up only a few miles away, and her father was a longtime physician and faculty member at KU School of Medicine. When it was time to go to college, she went to KU and became a nurse. That was a while ago.

Now, Jean Foret Giddens, Ph.D., FAAN, is back, and she’s ready to apply her extensive experience as a national leader in nursing to her alma mater.

“I’ve had a strong alliance with KU my whole life,” she said. “I feel like this is my opportunity to build on the great work that’s previously been done and use my skills and my abilities to take KU to the next level.”

Giddens is the first dean of KU School of Nursing since at least as far back as 1995 to bring experience as a sitting dean to the role. Prior to being named dean at KU School of Nursing, Giddens led the School of Nursing at Virginia Commonwealth University for more than a decade. She also recently took the helm of the most prestigious organization in nursing education, serving as chair of the Board of Directors for the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN).

In her previous role with AACN, she helped develop the new version of the AACN Essentials, the educational framework for the education of nurses at four-year colleges and universities. This document bridges the gap between nursing practice and nursing education and serves as a guide for curricula at nursing schools throughout the country. Giddens notes that, while her previous leadership roles will inform her decisions, she also intends to spend a great deal of time learning about the opportunities and challenges facing KU School of Nursing.

“My first priority is to listen and learn,” she said. “Leaders usually learn about the organization before making major changes.”

Giddens’ first step was to launch a listening tour of sorts, making it a priority to meet with and listen to administrators, faculty, staff and students. Giddens is looking for potential efficiencies, as well as how KU can impact the nursing shortage statewide and nationwide.

“We will be seeking ways to ensure that our curriculum conforms with the new nursing education standards, while also looking for ways to admit and educate more students,” she said. Supporting the new Kansas Nursing Workforce Center at KU School of Nursing also will be a priority.

Another element Giddens will look to add is a robust faculty-practice model. This is an arrangement whereby faculty members engage in clinical practice in clinics or hospitals as a part of their faculty work. In addition to creating opportunities for learners, that model may attract and retain nursing faculty, who also are in short supply nationally. It’s a model that allows nursing faculty to practice their craft as they teach, and it is also a mechanism that supports the school financially. Giddens established a model like that at Virginia Commonwealth, and she is eager to do the same at KU.

“It isn’t easy, but it provides a tremendous opportunity for both faculty and students,” she said. “It also helps support the bottom line.”

Giddens realizes that partnerships are key to her plans, and she is seeking to expand existing partnerships while also reaching out to new partners.

“I have a strong interest in creating a variety of robust partnerships to support education, research and practice,” she said, noting that her early meetings with existing and potential partners have gone well.

Plans also include creating community-based care and providing additional interprofessional learning opportunities for students. In the meantime, Giddens is carefully listening and building a foundation for what’s next.

“I’m really excited about all of the possibilities at KU,” she said. “But first, I’ll focus on the foundation. That is the central focus now. I need to ensure that the right people are in the right positions and then give them the autonomy to meet the expectations.”

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