New dean at School of Nursing & Health Studies

Shari DworkinBy Douglas Esser
Photos by Marc Studer

The new dean of the School of Nursing & Health Studies, Shari Dworkin, is enthusiastic about its nimble spirit, the opportunities to expand community collaborations and the possibilities for more offerings for health studies students. Shortly after arriving from her previous job as associate dean for academic affairs at the University of California San Francisco School of Nursing, Dworkin sat down for a question and answer session.

UW Bothell emphasizes teaching across boundaries. How did that become one of your strengths?
“Once I launched my career, I was immediately immersed in multiple disciplines. I was at an HIV center for clinical and behavioral studies. I began to work at bridging medicine, nursing, public health, anthropology and sociology. It’s in those early years of my career that I learned the language of bridging several disciplines and how to practice interdisciplinarity rather than just talk about it. I also learned that solutions to health problems really improve when multiple disciplines attack them together rather than in a siloed fashion. It just seems like a perfect fit to be here now.”

Shared governance also is one of your strengths. What does that mean to you?
“Leaders certainly lead but they lead in conjunction with a lot of input from faculty, staff and students. It also means that I’m incredibly committed to transparency and honesty in communication and decision-making.”

You began as a researcher and academic, but you’ve taken on increasing administrative responsibilities. How does that happen?
“Honestly, I was just bitten by the leadership bug early on in my career. I’ve had the opportunity to practice and enact these skills over time in a cumulative way, and that’s certainly deepened my knowledge base. I like to focus on empowering others in my leadership. That’s been incredibly satisfying, and I’ve also been delighted to capitalize on and expand my leadership skills over the years. I think it’s a perfect time to be the dean of the School of Nursing & Health Studies.”

You’ve described the School of Nursing & Health Studies as nimble. What does that mean?
“Very responsive, fast-acting, willing to change. Also able to look at the rapidly changing health care system, adjusting models of education and adjusting the way they’re delivered. I really do see this environment as fast-paced and vibrant, dynamic, innovative and entrepreneurial. It’s really exciting to be here.”

Entrepreneurial in what way?
“We’re actively collaborating with many different external community partners. And internally we’re collaborating with the School of Business and STEM in our master’s of nursing administrative leadership pathway to ensure that the next generation of nurses is effective leading. In that degree program, we’re focusing on managing high-performance teams, project and fiscal management, and leadership decisions regarding technology. I think we can really build on this strength and grow it.”

The school has partnerships with Everett Community College, Harborview Medical Center and Swedish medical center. How do you see that relationship?
“We have many great collaborations, and we value these relationships very much. We’ve been bringing education to our partners instead of their coming to us. It’s utterly critical to train the next generation of RNs to BSNs particularly given that many nurses are at or near retirement age. We’ve been positioned very nimbly to respond to our partners' needs, and that’s been a great benefit to both sides. This provides us another area of innovation and a way to expand off campus. We’re also going to kick off a Providence MN cohort next year. The Swedish model and the Providence relationship are examples of hybrid education created to respond to the need for administrative and leadership development for nurse managers.”

The school not only encompasses nursing but also health studies. What’s the advantage of having both?
“Health outcomes are largely impacted by social determinants of health and not just what happens in the health care system. Our health studies program and our nursing program are really focused on pressing beyond the individual and thinking about how individual health is shaped by population health, health systems, community level factors, interpersonal processes, social inequalities and family environments. So, having crossover between the two programs effectively trains our health care professionals in a way that is far more relevant than solely being focused in one area.”

How do you see the current status of the nursing workforce?
“A large proportion of nursing and health care professionals are at or near retirement. We’re going to need to find efficient ways of reaching a larger population that will both replenish the existing nursing and health care workforce and reflect the diversity of the communities we serve.”

One BSN cohort recently shifted from an all-classroom model to a hybrid of partly online and partly in-person classes. Is that the trend?
“That is extremely popular. We may do that for the entire bachelor’s degree. We’re definitely going to capitalize on our existing strengths in cutting edge models of education, and we want to do this in a way that meets our students’ needs.”

The Class of 2017 had 301 graduates – 21 Master of Science in nursing, 93 Bachelor of Arts in health studies and 187 Bachelor of Science in nursing. Health services employers are seeking a more-educated workforce. How is UW Bothell positioned?
“We’re experienced collaborators with health networks, hospitals, health commissions and community partners. We’re experienced at providing health education to ADNs, RNs and BSNs. We have a proven record of rigor and a unique curriculum that emphasizes interdisciplinarity, social justice, social determinants of health, community engagement and innovative models of education. I think that this innovation, coupled with our small size — where we can pay quite a bit of attention to each student — is a winning combination, and employers often agree.”

What do you anticipate from possible changes in the Affordable Care Act?
“It’s hard to predict. The ACA has really been a force of change in terms of shifting us all from being accustomed to volume- and fee-based care towards more quality and value-based care. And that sets up the need to have teams that are much more coordinated, that are focused on care transitions, that recognize population health and the social determinants of health. Washington State has multiple structures in place that are reflective of the logic of those shifts in the ACA. No matter what happens, that particular set of structures will hopefully lead to lower costs and better care for individuals.”

What career possibilities do you foresee for health studies majors?
“That degree has so much potential. Right now, it is quite general, and by that I mean it is for anyone interested in health studies as preparatory work for a range of health care positions. We could consider keeping it general and target a broader number of future health care professionals. Or we could develop specialties within health studies with more minors or certificates in areas of acute need. And the bachelor’s in health studies has been quite successful. We are essentially looking to create innovative programs that address more of the health care professions and their trajectories.”

How could a health studies degree enhance the health care workforce?
“There are many benefits to a bachelor’s in health studies for a broad array of professionals beyond nurses. We are helping people to understand why people get sick and what the broader drivers of illness are. Our analysis and our solutions are partly focused on public health, but we use a lot of interdisciplinary thinking about health and social justice to get to the best solutions. Students use our degree to go into many different areas of health, and they can work within or beyond the health care system. We can also serve the needs of the existing health care workforce as well. For example, we have large numbers of medical assistants and other health professionals that meet the health needs of individuals and communities. They would benefit greatly from our bachelor’s in health studies. Our School can be working more with our existing partners — just as we train RN to BSNs — to expand our reach.”

Even as dean, you hope to go back into the classroom. What areas?
“The primary areas of interest that I have are prevention interventions in health, the intersection of social justice and health, gender relations and health, and community health. Global health is an area of expertise as well. I’m quite excited to teach when I have the opportunity.”

Are you also still active as a researcher?
“I have a research portfolio from UCSF to carry over to UW Bothell. I have a project on HIV treatment and care in South Africa and a project on family planning and masculinities in Kenya. I also have a project I’m currently working on that analyzes media coverage and legal documents from a recent HIV criminalization case. So, it’s a number of projects that are consistent with the ethos of Bothell, which is to think of the upstream factors that drive health and to do so in an interdisciplinary fashion.” 

Shari Dworkin