Leaders in Nursing Education

Dr. Terry Valiga, Director of the Institute for Education Excellence at Duke University's School of Nursing

Thasin Jaigirdar
Oct 27, 2014

Dr. Terry Valiga is a Professor and the Director of the Institute for Education Excellence at Duke University’s School of Nursing. She has recently been honored for Outstanding Leadership in Nursing Education by the National League for Nursing at their annual Education Summit. She is known for her work in curriculum development and other aspects of Nursing Education. We are excited to feature her today in our Leaders in Nursing Education Series.

How did you decide on a career in Nursing and what drew you to Nursing Education?
I chose Nursing as a career because of the opportunities I knew it would provide to be closely involved with a wide range of human beings as they struggled with maintaining or regaining their health.  I can think of no other profession where you become intimately involved in the life of a stranger and engage in knowledge work (meaning you have to KNOW what you’re doing), physical work (meaning you actually DO things with your hands), and emotional work (meaning you need to provide SUPPORT/ENCOURAGEMENT to people in great times of need).  Nursing is a helping profession, and I thought I might have some opportunity to help people … and to learn something more about myself in the process.

To me, Nursing Education offers the same opportunities.  My goal is to help others learn and grow, and in the process I also continually learn and grow.  I like being intellectually challenged and continually engaging with new ideas, new ways to look at and think about things, and new people.  I think being an educator allows you to be creative, is intellectually stimulating, allows you to support and challenge and encourage others as they learn complex material and reflect on their own values and beliefs, and keeps you “young.”  Like nursing practice, it involves knowledge work, emotional work, and (to a more limited extent) physical work (e.g., working with simulators, online courses, etc.).  I’ve been teaching nursing for a very long time, and I can think of nothing else I’d rather be doing.

What are two or three changes would you like to see in Nursing Education?
I think we need to be more innovative and flexible in the way we design nursing curricula and stop being as “rigid” and structured as we’ve been traditionally.  I think we need to focus less on “delivering content” and more on helping students develop their ability to think, be comfortable with the ambiguities and uncertainties they will encounter throughout their careers and their lives, and have a clearer sense of who they are and how they have been changed as a result of the educational process.  Finally, I would like to see more of a focus on outcomes than on collecting credits or putting in “seat time;” time alone does not necessarily mean learning or growth, so if we were to focus more on what students have learned and how they can demonstrate that, we could have more individualized, learner-centered programs.

What does an “average” day look like for you?
I’m not sure I have a typical day.  I can say that I put in more hours than most people expect they will have to do when they take a teaching position, but it’s work I love doing, so it doesn’t always seem like a burden.  I teach solely online, so I spend my time preparing all the material to upload to the course management system – lectures that I’ve recorded, reading lists, support documents, links to videos, exercises, and so on – reading students’ postings to the discussion forum and engaging in dialogue with them about ideas; communicating with students about personal questions/issues; grading papers; and guiding students through the course.  I also advise students about their program plan, career options, doctoral study options, ways to become involved in the profession, job search processes, and so on.  I spend a good deal of time in meetings – with individuals or committees – to address program issues, discuss marketing approaches, help faculty develop their own teaching materials, plan new initiatives, revise the curriculum, etc.  I attend educational programs to remain current in my field, read education-focused journals, write articles or book chapters for publication, participate in activities sponsored by my professional associations, provide consultation to other schools of nursing, and prepare papers/workshops for presentation at local and national conferences.  In any given day, I’m likely to do many of these things; on other days, however, I might focus solely on some scholarly activities (writing, preparation of presentations, etc.)  It’s never boring, and it’s never routine.

What advice would you give to someone interested in a career in nursing?
I would advise those who are interested in Nursing to make sure they have a fair and current understanding of the role of the nurse and the career opportunities available to them.  Too many people still have “old” ideas about what nurses do, or they think that the only career direction is to become a nurse practitioner.  Choosing a career based on outdated or incomplete information can lead to disappointment later on, so getting accurate information “up front” is, I think, essential.  I also would advise individuals who choose to enroll in a nursing program to be prepared for a lot of hard work.  A nurse may literally have the life of others in her/his hands, so this is not a field where superficial understanding or minimal effort is acceptable.  It’s hard, serious work … but it’s also incredibly rewarding.  Finally, I would advise nursing students to ask questions, get to know the faculty, seek out opportunities that will challenge them and help them grow, and don’t stay on the outside looking in.

For those interested in a career in Nursing Education, I would recommend that they look deep into their hearts and souls to find out what they really like to do and what energizes them, and choose a program that going to best prepare them for the role that resonates best with their values and strengths.  Don’t be “pressured” by others to choose a specialty or role that is popular or that pays lots of money; choose the one that fits best with who you are, how you want to make a significant contribution in the world and to the profession, and what you value.

It seems that more and more Nurses are going back to school to get additional degrees such as their MBA. What are your thoughts on this trend?
To me, the important thing is to make an informed and carefully-considered decision … and make choices about graduate school for the right reasons.  For example, if you choose to pursue an MBA, do so because you have management strengths, like to be in a position to guide people and organizations, and like to think about things related to finance, marketing and organizational health.  Don’t make that choice because you think the program is going to be easier, or you think it’ll open more doors for you, or you think it’ll pay more.  If a nurse loves this kind of work and envisions that an MBA combined with an RN will offer opportunities to bring fresh perspectives to the business world, I’d say “go for it” … the business world might benefit from more people who bring in the humanistic perspective nurses typically have.  If a nurse loves the idea of politics and influencing policies that will make the world a better place for more people, then pursue a degree in public policy.  And if a nurse is fascinated by how the body works, then an advanced degree in physiology might be the best fit.

I do hope, however, that the vast majority of nurses are so excited and energized by their work as nurses that they will pursue graduate degrees in the field … preparing to be educators, clinical nurse specialists, nurse midwives, nurse anesthetists, nurse practitioners, nurse managers and administrators, nurse informaticists, and so on … and that they will want to help shape the future of our profession.  I also hope that our employment settings provide nurses with the support and encouragement they need to remain excited and energized, and not want to “run away.”  We need bright, talented individuals to carry on the great progress we’ve made in Nursing, and we all need to take responsibility for helping that happen.