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Service & Evolving leadership in the University, Community and Profession

Service and Evolving leadership in the University, Community and Profession

The idea of service and leadership were not always been clear to me.  As a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholar, I spent years working with national leaders to hone my skills and learn to make a positive impact in my students, peers, community, and profession. In her article Public Service in Higher Education: Practices and Priorities, Crosson writes that public service has always been a part of higher education. However, like many university faculty, I struggled with integrating service and leadership throughout my role in the academy. As a pediatric nurse practitioner, teaching in a bachelor’s of science nursing program, at a research intensive university, I was often exhausted and overwhelmed thinking about how I was going to get it all done; there just weren’t enough hours in the day. As a Scholar, I learned to reframe my thinking, to live my purpose, focus on my strengths, and weave these strengths through all aspects of my academic career. Once I did this, things changed. These are the four things that helped me.

1. Connect your talent with the community. My research and clinical focus is pediatric asthma, health disparities, and health equity. I know the challenges my patients and their families face and wanted to make positive change. So, I began going to the town hall meetings, PTA meetings and I met with the Supervisor of the city’s school nurses. I asked how asthma was impacting their community, shared what I could do clinically and offered professional development for their staff. I kept in touch following up with emails and calls to let them know I was serious and before I knew it, the requests began to come.  

2. Incorporate service learning into your courses. I brought the issues that were important to the community to my classroom. Social determinants of health became the spine of my syllabus and the RWJF Culture of Health Framework was embedded in my undergraduate and graduate courses. I worked with community leaders to determine their immediate needs. Together we developed service-learning activities that allowed students to use these skills in real world settings, while meeting the needs of community partners. For information on how to incorporate service learning into a course check out the work of Janet Eyler.

3. Use your research and evidence-based practice skills to aid the community. As a clinician and scientist, you possess training that allows you to answer sophisticated questions, implement and measure the effectiveness of programs, develop and evaluate systems changes, and disseminate findings. Using a community based participatory approach, I was able to work with the community to implement and evaluate interventions that are tailored to the community needs. Because of your connection to the university community, you have knowledge of and access to other expertise that the community needs. Inviting colleagues from other university departments to help a community partner is a win-win situation. The community needs are met, and another faculty person has a connection for teaching, scholarship, and service. Keep your department and university appraised of your work and publish the projects that you and your students do with your partners.  

4. Service is a vehicle for university, community, and professional leadership.  In their article Where are the Faculty Leaders? Strategies and Advice for Reversing Current Trends, Kezar and colleagues advise that faculty should first establish their leadership in the community prior to the university. Conversely, DeZure and colleagues state that faculty should be involved in departmental, university, and professional leadership activities early. First, I became known for my expertise. This led to invitations to serve on community boards and councils, which in turn allowed me to further develop my leadership skills in the community, with professional nursing organizations, and eventually within the university.

I recommend that you work to develop your scholarship, teaching, and service with the community. Bring your work to your classroom and incorporate your students. Lastly, get out there, get known, share your expertise and let others know what you are doing!  

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