The Nursing Dean Who Promotes Healthy Work Environments: Dr. Dorrie Fontaine

Dr Fontaine, it seems you have done it all. You have worked at the bedside in ICU, been a researcher, professor, an award winning nursing leader (several times) and now it appears you are transforming nursing universities as the Dean of The University of Virginia.  What do you love most about nursing?  Nursing combines science and art. Understanding the intricacies of the human body is exciting but how individuals respond to the human condition of illness, suffering and healing is thrilling to witness. Nursing lets you “inside” where you can intervene and promote well-being.

Tell me your biggest concerns about nursing.  I worry that young nurses will become sad due to the pressures of the work environment. I am concerned that financial issues of hospital administrations sometimes overcome common sense. Creating resilient nurses is a priority.

Tell me about your most favorite nursing job and why. I loved teaching junior nursing students in a huge class at University of Maryland in the late 70s and early 80s. I could take 8 students to the clinical arena a few days a week, give them up to 3 patients each and feel that we were part of the unit’s staff taking great care of each patient and the student at the same time.

You are surrounded by budding new nurses. What advice do you have for new graduates?  Find a unit that you love and where the staff will love you back and recognize your talents. Be enthusiastic and generous to all around you.

Communication is an ongoing challenge in healthcare between nurses and nurses as well as between nurses and physicians. Can you share a bit about the work you have done with medical students and nursing students to create more clarity?  When medical and nursing students have a chance to train together in the same classroom, in simulation, or discussion seminars, they come to new appreciation of each other’s unique roles as well as shared humanity. We are training all junior nursing students with our third year medical students with dramatic results in respect and acceptance. The good news will come when we see a change in hospital culture and patient/family outcomes.

A common theme in the nursing profession is that we eat our young. Some nurses say it starts as early as nursing school, yet you have prioritized creating a supportive, compassionate environment for students. Have you experienced any push back from nursing professors that think your approach is too soft and how do you work with them? Everyone hopes to work and learn in an environment where they feel cared for and respected. We have focused on this as the most important aspect of preparation or a healing role. Click here to listen to a webcast about healthy work environments from Dorie

What throws you off balance and how do you know you are out of balance?  Worries that everyone else has, such as so much to do and where to focus first? I always stop myself and ask what is the most important thing that only I can do as a dean? And then be grateful each day for the good things that happen and shake off with yoga/meditation/mindfulness strategies to stay in the moment.

What brings you back into balance? As above, as well as Gratitude, Focus, and Being fully present with others.