A talk with Dean Lewis


Published November 22, 2019

headshot of Marsha Lewis.

As part of its series of interviews with UB’s deans, UBNow sat down with Marsha Lewis, dean of the School of Nursing, to learn more about the school’s strategic plan; the role of diversity and inclusion in nursing education, practice and research; and how the school is preparing students to address the myriad challenges the profession faces in the coming years.

The School of Nursing recently launched its new strategic plan. Looking five years down the road, what do you envision for the school? How does this plan align with UB’s Top 25 ambition?

The strategic plan for 2019-23 is an update of our previous plan. We kept the same mission: to foster an environment of academic and scholarly excellence that develops nurse leaders who will improve the health and wellness of local, national and global communities.

Our vision is to advance the reputation of the School of Nursing by achieving a collaborative academic culture that impacts global and local needs for research, scholarship and educational excellence. The goals we have set build on our past accomplishments.

In five years, I envision the School of Nursing achieving research expenditures well beyond our current $2.7 million. I expect that we will continue to garner Health Resources and Services Administration funding to build the nursing workforce in areas that are of prime importance, such as the opioid epidemic.

Our research collaboration will grow between our research faculty and our clinical faculty to discover improvements in patient care. We will be an integral part of a wider, interdisciplinary research endeavor across UB and around the world.

Our cutting-edge educational offerings, which include undergraduate, advanced practice studies and PhD programs, will continue to rise in the national rankings. We will attract high-caliber students who, as graduates, are prepared to meet complex health care demands in an ever-changing health care landscape, and will continue to be highly sought after by health care agencies.

All of these goals align well with UB’s Top 25 ambition.

The School of Nursing is home to several prominent nurse leaders and scholars. How will the school continue to strengthen its research programs and promote academic excellence among faculty and students?

We have continued to strengthen and broaden our programs of research by bringing in a diverse population of researchers from both nursing and related disciplines.

Some of our areas of research include insomnia in cancer survivors, bullying and substance use, addiction in older adults, adolescent e-cigarette usage, family caregiving, palliative and end-of-life care planning, and reproductive health outcomes for refugee populations.

We have five faculty members — more than one-third of our ladder faculty — who are fellows of the American Academy of Nursing, the premier nursing organization that advances health policy, practice and science. Three of our faculty members are fellows in the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. We want to continue to build our cadre of fellows who will have a great impact on the health of the population and the nursing profession.

In our strategic plan, we will identify areas of research strength and recruit to enhance these strengths by making them more visible within UB and the community. We are also utilizing a $1 million gift to support funding for a strong PhD student each year to promote PhD excellence and impact the nursing community.

Faculty within the School of Nursing recently voted to make the school’s diversity and inclusion taskforce a standing committee. Why is diversity and inclusion crucial to nursing education, practice and research?

Nurses work on a very intimate level with our patients and clients. To be effective, we must understand the person’s experience and their culture, as these strongly influence the care we provide.

We know that none of us can truly be competent in the variety of cultures that our patients bring, but we can develop cultural humility, recognizing that the person is the expert in their own experiences. We also know that a workforce that mirrors the populations we serve has the advantage of demonstrating empathy to a much greater degree.

Evidence has shown that organizations and programs that value and embrace diverse ideas result in more robust outcomes. Our former assistant dean for diversity and inclusion, Dr. Margaret Moss, initiated the Diversity and Inclusion Taskforce several years ago. This fall, we created the Committee on Diversity and Inclusion to promote an environment that embraces and sustains respect of multifaceted diversity and inclusion across the school.

We have instituted a holistic admission process to account for a variety of factors that may make an applicant a good candidate for the nursing program. While we continue to work toward increasing diversity in race, ethnicity and gender, we know our student demographic does not mirror the population of Buffalo.

Another concern is the demographics of our nursing faculty. A major issue in recruitment of diverse faculty is that the U.S. is experiencing a nursing faculty shortage, and this exacerbates the shortage of faculty from diverse and underrepresented populations.

One objective in our strategic plan is to promote diversity and a climate welcoming of a diverse faculty, staff and student body, and to purposively recognize diverse individuals, views and ideas equitably.

As co-chair of this year’s UB Faculty Staff Campaign, you launched an endowment to support educational innovation at the School of Nursing. How will this endowment enhance teaching and training for nursing students? What are the school’s other philanthropic goals under the university’s Boldly Buffalo campaign?

The School of Nursing aims to be a leader in both research and education. There are new models, technology and pedagogy that we must embrace. My PhD was awarded by the College of Education at the University of Minnesota. Education is of great value to me as a major way to improve the quality of care and, therefore, improve patient outcomes.

One of the hallmarks of the majority of nursing programs, including ours, is lifelong learning. Our educators face the important task of creating an environment where students can develop their knowledge, skills, and clinical and ethical approach to improve the health of our citizens.

Education, along with research, needs to be a priority in the School of Nursing, and this fund will provide opportunities for faculty to learn about and develop new methods for educating our students. Just as we value and support cutting-edge research, the School of Nursing promotes cutting-edge education.

The school has several other funding priorities, including student scholarships — particularly for our ABS and DNP students — and initiatives to support both educational opportunities and research focused on global health and underserved communities.

What is the greatest challenge nurses will face in the coming years? How is the school preparing students to face this issue?

This is an enormous question with more than one answer! The many challenges include the aging of our citizens, increasing clinical practice complexity that contains a global perspective, changing delivery systems, workforce shortages and advances in technology, to name a few.

We know that nurses will be required to perform complex thinking tasks, including complex interactions with others and solving unexpected problems. Nurses will need to be knowledge-age workers who can locate, access and present new information quickly, communicate it reliably and understand it as part of the bigger picture.

Because of the need for nurses to use good clinical judgment, our undergraduate program curriculum is being revised to provide a concept-based education in contrast to a disease-based or medical model approach. We also know that the National Council of State Boards of Nursing is revising the registered nurse licensure examination to include an assessment of clinical judgment.

I believe that our undergraduate curriculum will provide students with the foundation they need to be critical thinkers who make sound clinical judgments.