Dean Keefe Retires, Leaving A Nursing College Better Than She Found It
| May 23, 2013 1:00 PM
We recently celebrated the retirement of Maureen Keefe, and I wanted to share a departing Q&A we held with her in honor of all that she gave to our institution.
Departing Q & A
What attracted you to the U from South Carolina some 12 year ago?
I was impressed with the reputation of the University of Utah, particularly the College of Nursing which also has a strong national reputation. Did you know it was the first nursing school in the Intermountain West to offer a PhD program, which is now more than 35 years old. It has always been recognized as a leader.
I also appreciated the fact that the University offers a comprehensive campus, not exclusively just the health sciences, which is the environment I was coming from. This combination provides such a rich environment in terms of dialog and collaboration. Also, as part of the University Health Sciences Center, it allows faculty to practice what they teach and clues students into the application of what they are learning in class.
That synergy that is created when you bring the hospital, the school of medicine, the colleges of pharmacy and health, and other health professions together can do a lot.
It was also a return to the West for you again, to Utah this time, not Colorado?
Yes it meant returning to the culture of the West, which we enjoy on many levels, one being the outdoor lifestyle. The move was also bringing us closer to family and friends again. Even though I spent over 20 years in Colorado earning my degrees and practicing and teaching, I was not all that familiar with Utah. [She earned both her master’s degree in parent-child nursing and her PhD in nursing at the University of Colorado.]
My husband and I arrived right before the 2002 Olympics which was an exciting time here. We were surprised by all the outdoor beauty here it Utah; we thought Colorado had it all, but Utah has even more.
In your 12 years at the helm, the CON has excelled in many areas guided by its three-pronged vision to excel in education, research, and practice. What are some accomplishments that stand out in your heart and mind?
First of all, I did not do it alone. The faculty and staff had a lot to do with our successes. Something I'm very proud to have been a part of and I think is a legacy of my time here is the new building renovation, which includes a state-of-the-art Simulation Learning Center.
We've been innovative in creating new programs, prompting a climb in undergraduate and graduate student enrollment. We implemented a new accelerated degree option for those with a degree in another field who wanted to switch fields to nursing.
We were first in the region to offer a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Degree. Our PhD program went online using a strong, innovative teleconferencing format. It made our program available nationally to students—the faculty were the ones really behind making this happen.
What successes did you see in the research arena?
This area has really grown and mushroomed. We broke the glass ceiling in funding when we received more than 8 million dollars in NIH funding. We are now ranked 25th among nursing schools for NIH funding. Securing this research was a joint effort which is funding primarily three different areas of research: symptom management in cancer patients, end-of-life care, and support for the care giver.
What about in the practice arena?
We've really blossomed in this area and have seen more than a four-fold increase in revenue in faculty practice sites and practice contracts. Our faculty members are out in the community practicing and are often serving vulnerable populations. They are involved in a broad spectrum of areas Including primary care, midwifery, psychiatric mental health services, and community-based care to name a few.
There’s a real need for primary care practitioners right now due to health-care reform and there is also a faculty shortage nationwide. About half of our 700 students right now are pursuing graduate-level degrees to fulfill these needs.
What led you down the path into nursing initially? Why the pursuit of a PhD and teaching?
Well, I was a Candy Striper in high school, a hospital volunteer program. I’ve always been drawn to opportunities where I could make a difference for someone else and have always felt strong empathy for others. Nursing was a good fit to contribute in this way; it is truly gratifying to know you can make a contribution to the well being of others.
Tell us more about your own internationally recognized research in maternal child health care?
I got interested in this research when I was a pediatric nurse practitioner and caring for a number of families that had unexplained fussy, irritable babies. We looked at it as a developmental sleep disorder; essentially these babies were so over-stimulated it that they had a hard time falling asleep. We focused on the environment these babies were in.
What do you get out of your interactions with the students?
Students make you keep it real; they keep you in touch with the purpose of why you are here. As a dean, I’ve done more guest-lecturing in classes than teaching my own classes. I’ll lecture on leadership and health policy and what is going on locally and nationally in these areas. I’ll also teach about maternal infant care, especially regarding fussy babies.
When I was an undergraduate, I never knew who my dean was or ever saw her. I want the CON students to know who I am. This was one reason I started our quarterly “Dialogue with the Dean”—and I’ve learned if you buy enough pizza, you’ll get a good turnout. These town-hall type meetings are an opportunity to communicate with and update the students but mostly it is their time to share with me. They give me insights into what is working and how I can support them better and are remarkably creative and positive regarding how we can improve things. These students are incredibly engaged with their learning.
Do you think the type of person that the nursing profession is attracting has changed over your career?
We’ll here at the U, I do have to say we’ve got the best of the best; the cream of the crop. However, looking back over my 30 years in nursing, I think now more than ever before, some of the best men and women are entering the nursing field. I’m not exactly sure why, but it may have to do with health-care reform providing nurses the opportunity to move into more wellness- based, team-based health care delivery.
I think nursing continues to attract those who want to make a difference. I also think there is a shifting paradigm where people are better understanding the contributions a nurse can make in keeping people healthy and in educating them about health.
What is some wisdom that you’ve learned in looking back over your career that you could share with us?
A reoccurring theme, whether you are dealing one-on-one with people or leading a growing organization, is always the question of how do you stay connected to people and what they need. This is so important if you are in a profession that is about giving back.
I’ve learned that what can help you achieve this is by being a good listener and practicing empathy—really trying to be in another’s shoes. I’ve also learned, which is a big component of the University’s philosophy, is that anything we create as a collective team will have a stronger outcome. That is what we’ve done here at the CON.
Well it is a phased retirement so I’ll still be involved in some aspects. I certainly will be helping do what I can to set the new dean up for success. I’ll stay involved in the U’s Inter-Professional Education Initiative that has developed a series of courses to teach our student how to work as effective teams. I’ll also co-chair the statewide Utah Action Coalition for Health, which helps prepare nurses for leadership and health-care reform.
There’s always the outdoors, which I’ll be enjoying along with spending more time with my grandchildren. I’ll definitely be freeing up time to be a more involved grandmother.
Author: Vivian S. Lee, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A.
About the Author: Dr. Vivian S. Lee is the Senior Vice President for Health Sciences at the University of Utah, Dean of the University of Utah School of Medicine, and CEO of University of Utah Health Care. Read her full bio herecomments powered by Disqus