A strong voice for the nursing profession

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In no other time in Kathy Rideout’s life has the role of nursing received more attention. Still, the dean of University of Rochester School of Nursing is troubled that the effort to recognize, respect and uplift these frontline workers has dwindled as the pandemic rages on amid vaccine hesitancy. 

“We have to continue to have the positive messaging and write stories about nurses and continue to focus on the critical importance of the nursing profession,” Rideout says. “And not just on a day-to-day care of patients, but in the education of the future workforce, in the research that nurses are doing, and contributing to the science of health care. We need to continue to focus and have that positive attention be the message, and not pay attention to all the all the other noise, the negative noise, that is happening.”

Rideout, who still works as a nurse practitioner, recently announced her decision to step down as dean. She will return to her role on the faculty as a professor of clinical nursing and pediatrics after June 30. A committee led by Eli Eliav, director of the Eastman Institute for Oral Health, will conduct a national search for a new dean.

Rideout was named to the position a decade ago and has been credited with many achievements during her tenure. The fifth dean of the school and member of its faculty for more than 35 years, she oversaw a new approach to nursing education using technology and experiential learning techniques.

Kathy Rideout will return to her role on the UR School of Nursing faculty after June 30. (Photo: UR)

Under her tutelage the UR School of Nursing has consistently ranked among the top 25 for research funding from the National Institutes of Health. Rideout also created and expanded the nurse-run UR Medicine Center for Employee Wellness. The program, which began in 2013, now serves more than 55 employers in the area. 

Enrollment at the school has been at a record high. Over the last five years the student body has grown by more than half to nearly 800 students, leading to the need for expanded facilities. Last year, UR announced a $15 million expansion of Helen Wood Hall to accommodate projected growth of undergraduate and graduate students.

For Rideout, it’s the focus on diversity, equity and inclusiveness that is her most significant accomplishment and a personal mission. When she took the job as dean, she spoke with the school’s first dean, Lee Ford, who advised her to never lose focus on patients and the community. Rideout took that to heart, noting that a community is best served with an attention to diversity, equity and inclusion.

“We really made a lot of changes within our programming, within our recruitment of students, within our recruitment of faculty and staff to really focus on increasing the diversity of our workforce,” she says. “And for me, that was really critical because I know patients are better when they are cared for by a diverse workforce.”

Today, the UR School of Nursing is a rarity the nation. It has received the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award four times. 

“The award doesn’t signify that we’re perfect, but it signifies that we are continuing to make progress in our initiatives,” Rideout says.

Over the last five years, the number of students from underrepresented groups in nursing has increased 74 percent and the number of male students has increased 39 percent. The number of faculty from underrepresented groups has increased 45 percent. Male faculty during that period increased 36 percent.

“Last year I actually sat down and wrote out a history of our diversity in the School of Nursing because obviously it became the center point of what people needed to do,” Rideout says. “But it’s something we’ve been doing for 20 years here in the School of Nursing.

“It was important for me to really tell that story because it’s not just now because it’s a nice thing to do, or the thing that is getting the attention. It’s something about the core of who we are,” she adds. “And it is something I think I am most proud of, because it represents what my commitment was to serve our community and the patients that we care for, and it is to provide them a workforce that is taught by faculty that are representative of our community to really ensure the best outcomes.”

Nursing schools today face several challenges. There aren’t enough educators, for starters. In 2019, U.S. nursing schools turned away 80,407 qualified applications from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs in 2019 due to an insufficient number of faculty, clinical sites, classroom space, clinical preceptors, and budget constraints, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing found.

At UR, Rideout has worked with the UR Medical Center’s nursing practice to offer incentives to nursing staff to enroll in leadership and education programs. Rideout believes community partnerships play a role as well. UR has a pysch mental health nurse practitioner program in response to community needs. 

“For the 18 counties (in our region), we actually provide a 50 percent scholarship now, for students who live in work in those areas … where they then have their clinical right in the area where they live, and then they’re hired in the region in which they live,” she says. “We have to develop more partnerships within our community to really increase that workforce. I think it’s a message to our region, as well as to our students, that we are with them in this in this journey.”

While enrollment in nursing programs continues to rise, the pandemic has traumatized nurses. Some are leaving the profession, feeling exhausted and burned out. During the past year, hospital turnover increased by 1.7 percentage points and currently stands at 19.5 percent, a 2021 NSI Nursing Solutions report states. The average cost of turnover for a bedside registered nurse is $40,038 (it can range from $28,400 to $51,700), resulting in the average hospital losing $3.6 million to $6.5 million a year, the NSI survey reports. It takes roughly three months to recruit an experienced nurse. 

Rideout advises practicing nurses and new recruits to stay the course and seek support. As professionals, she says, it is important for nurses to take time to listen to each other and mentor others. To bring about change, Rideout encourages nurses to meet with elected officials to help them better understand challenges and the various aspects of the nursing profession. Be part of the solution, she says.

“This is a season of stress. We’ve been through other seasons before, and we’ve always been able to rise above it,” Rideout says. “But we cannot do that just individual by individual. We have to come together as a community of people committed to serving others.”

Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor.

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