By Susan Gennaro, RN, Ph.D., FAAN; Nancy DeBasio, RN, Ph.D., FAAN; & Terran Mathers, RN, DNS
The Jesuit Conference of Nursing Programs (JCNP) consists of 20 Jesuit colleges and universities with nursing programs, under the umbrella of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU). The mission of the JCNP is to be a “collaborative and supportive consortium that promotes a Catholic, Jesuit nursing identity to advance nursing education and improve health,” while its vision is to “be a discerning voice for social justice and excellence in health care” (JCNP Strategic Plan, 2012-2014).
The Conference began informally through a gathering of Jesuit nursing deans in 1992 (nursing deans regularly attend meetings hosted by the National League for Nursing and Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing). However, it wasn’t until 1994 when the organization, then known as the AJCU Conference of Nursing Programs, developed the first bylaws and became formalized. (With the third set of bylaws in 2012, the name was changed to JCNP.)
Since their formal establishment, the Jesuit deans have developed several documents including a SWOT Analysis of Distributive Learning (October 2006), a Jesuit Consortium for DNP Programs (March 2010), and a Guide to Faculty Networking at Conferences (November 2012). Three retreats have been held over the years, two aimed at strategic planning, (June 2009; August 2011) and another on Discernment: Ignatian Spirituality (June 2014). These have helped to keep the Jesuit deans focused on their mission and vision in pursuit of three main objectives: Establish the JCNP Brand, Sustain an Effective Collaborative Organization, and Advance Innovative Educational Opportunities and Strategic Partnerships.
The common mission and values shared by the deans of Jesuit nursing programs have enabled us to have an immediate support network, as we respond to the many challenges that face both nursing and higher education today. When the deans meet twice every year, there is never a shortage of important topics to discuss as to how we, as Catholic and Jesuit institutions, can best live out our mission. Whether it is questions on justice or autonomy, staffing models for new kinds of educational practices, appropriate informed consent from vulnerable populations, or other wide ranging concerns, the leaders of our nursing programs are always eager to discuss how we can best proceed.
Although the deans and associate deans / directors meet together for dinner informally at one of our national Fall meetings, we also meet, along with other Jesuit faculty, at specialty conferences for Baccalaureate or Masters or DNP education at other times of the year. We feel that all who are involved in Jesuit nursing education should have an opportunity to voice opinions and concerns. Sometimes these conversations happen as we work at our home institutions through blast emails; as we sit across the table from each other at in-person national conferences; at JCNP meetings; through discussions at a conference reception or dinner; and sometimes through special retreats,
At a time when there is a shortage of nursing faculty in our nation, it has been a tangible advantage that Jesuit deans can share best practices in terms of recruitment and retention, as well as faculty workloads and salaries, and the many other challenges we currently face. This support is especially helpful to new deans who are just stepping into their role and immediately benefit from the support of a cadre of like-minded individuals who are experienced and very interested in lending a helping hand. The networking and support is invaluable and constant as a fellow Jesuit dean or associate dean is just an e-mail or phone call away. Perhaps this high level of support helps to explain why a number of our members have stepped up to leadership roles in higher education, including presidents and provosts. Over the years, many of our members have also served as leaders of such national organizations as AACN (American Association of Colleges of Nursing) and CCNE (Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education).
Another opportunity that we have as Jesuit deans is through our networking and attendance at meetings with the Catholic Health Association (CHA) and with leaders of other Catholic schools. It is extremely helpful to hear about best practices that are working for other institutions, e.g. how to expand service experiences for our students while assuring that the community is well served. It is also valuable for learning about regional differences in national trends, and for seeing how our institutions fit into the broader scheme of national Catholic nursing education. Sometimes we become so wrapped up with the problems and challenges in our own particular area that we don’t realize how these challenges differ depending on the geographic region where we live and work.
The opportunity to have a national collaborative, not competitive, group of nurse leaders has been vital in helping each of us as deans to strive for the Magis. In this season of gratitude, we are very thankful to have the support and help of our fellow deans and the AJCU.
Dr. Susan Gennaro has served as Dean and Professor of the William F. Connell School of Nursing at Boston College since 2008. Dr. Nancy DeBasio, who provided the historical information for this article, was President and Dean of the Research College of Nursing at Rockhurst University from 1992 – 2017. Dr. Terran Mathers has served as Chair of the Division of Nursing at Spring Hill College since 2011, and as President of JCNP from 2016-2018.