Leaders in Nursing Education

Leaders in Nursing Education - Dr. Anita Hufft, Dean of Nursing at Texas Woman’s University College of Nursing

Thasin Jaigirdar
Published on Jun 8, 2015. Updated on Invalid date.

Dr. Anita Hufft serves as dean of Texas Woman's University's College of Nursing, where she had recieved her Ph.D in nursing. She has previously served as dean of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences for Valdosta State University. Dr. Hufft recieved her bachelors in nursing from University of Maryland and her master's in nursing from Louisiana State University. Dr. Hufft is also a veteran of the US Army and has served numerous board positions, including a role with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. We are excited to be featuring her on our series today.

How did you get interested in Nursing and can you summarize a the steps you have taken in your career prior to becoming Dean of a Nursing School?
I entered nursing through the Walter Reed Army Institute of Nursing. My father was an officer in the Medical Service Corps of the US Air Force, a former POW (WWII) and my hero.  I actually had a chemistry scholarship coming out of high school, and I wanted to go into the military – either in intelligence work or the space program.  Discovering that both options were highly unlikely (bright I was – but not brilliant), I was convinced by my dad that nursing was a good option – found out he was right.

I never consciously prepared myself for a deanship until after I had one.  I have always focused on being the best nurse I could be, and I understood that leadership is an essential quality necessary for a professional who desires to advocate for excellence. I had been in private practice and I loved the  scholarly aspects of nursing education so the academy was a good fit.  Being a dean came from stepping up when no one else would, and finding out it was a great career track. From my first deanship on I “grew up” in AACN and I can honestly say that many if not all my successes being a dean have related to what I have learned in AACN.. and the failure usually occurred because I didn’t listen!

I have seen that you have done some work with the US Army, and I’d like to thank you for your service. I would love to learn a bit more about your experiences working with the Army and if there were any memorable moments you had during your time serving the country?
My military service grew out of my experience as an Air Force Fledgling (we don’t call them brats… that is the Army). I would have gone blue, but they didn’t have any significant scholarships back in the sixties, so I went US Army Nurse Corps. All of my experiences in the Army were memorable and contributed to my ability to assume responsibility, take leadership, and work hard.  I especially felt privileged to have had my nursing education at Walter Reed.  I tend to remember the good times and repress the bad.

What do your responsibilities as a member of the Board of Directors for the American Association of Colleges of Nursing  (AACN) entail? What initiatives would you like to see the AACN undertake through the remainder of your term? What changes would you like to see in Nursing Education in the long-term?
My duties on the AACN Board focus on serving the membership through serving the organization.  Our ultimate goal is to promote excellence in nursing through the support of nursing academic leaders. Our collaborations and initiatives across disciplines and across nursing organizations has been a great opportunity for me to mentor new deans, assist deans and students to inform others about policy that impacts nursing and health care, and to promote the very best in nursing education. Specifically, my work has focused on working with great AACN staff who help me to work with other deans in Governmental Affairs and in developing and promoting the Centralized Application System (NursingCAS).

I do a lot of listening – making sure I understand the issues, needs, preferences and ideas of our membership.  I also do a lot of reading – making sure I’m keeping up with all the issues that impact nursing and nursing education.

I would love to see AACN initiate groundwork to develop evaluation tools for nursing competency that could be implemented across all BSN and graduate nursing programs.  I think long term changes in nursing education should include increased differentiation of competencies based on education, more integration of scholarship across all clinical roles, and more interprofessional education opportunities. I would love for every nursing program to run its own nurse-managed clinic, where examples of nursing excellence would be modeled by faculty; I would love nursing education to develop cost-effective and less labor-intensive modular approaches that would allow students to progress at their own pace and abilities, focusing on outcome competencies, and individualized to meet their needs and those of the populations they serve. Finally, I would love to see nursing faculty compensated appropriately for the work they do.

What changes would you like to see in the current US healthcare system?
Accountable systems that distribute resources fairly, promote patient choice, and allow practitioner innovation.

What are some of the most gratifying parts of being a dean of a Nursing school? Also, what are some of the biggest challenges you currently face?
Being a dean allows me to mentor others, creatively support innovation and productivity, challenge others to think and reflect, and to motivate others to do their best.  My challenges are probably the same as other deans – balancing the budget, dealing with faculty and students who have unrealistic expectations of the profession or the job; and telling someone when they are not meeting my expectations.  Many of my most frustrating moments have been trying to explain nursing to someone who is not a nurse.

Do you have any final thoughts you would like to share for individuals interested in pursuing a future in nursing?
Nursing is a profession in which, no matter how bad your day, no matter how many things you could have done better, you can go home knowing you made a positive difference in someone’s life – all you have to do is care.