Vanderbilt’s dean of nursing on her career path and advice to others
“The field has grown tremendously in terms of academic advancements, but also in terms of nurses being viewed as key players in healthcare decision-making,” explained Linda Norman, DSN, RN, Valere Potter Menefee Professor in nursing and dean of Vanderbilt University’s School of Nursing in Nashville.
I recently had the privilege of sitting down with her to ask her questions about her personal career, and about the field of nursing in general.
She says she knew from a young age that she wanted to go into nursing education. She completed both her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees at the University of Virginia. She gained experience between completing the two degrees by teaching at a Hospital-based program, and simultaneously working as a staff-nurse on the weekends, and in the summer.
After finishing up her Master’s, Norman became a part of a National Heart, Lung and Blood grant. She helped establish hypertension detection and adherence clinics in southwest Virginia and northwest Tennessee.
When the project ended, she took on a new role, teaching at East Tennessee State University (ETSU). After only a brief time at ETSU, she was promoted to serve as chair of her department.
Norman moved to Nashville a few years later, and began working as the director of Aquinas College’s Nursing program, while also earning her doctorate from the University of Alabama. After completing the degree, she was offered a position as the Associate Dean of Academics at Vanderbilt’s nursing school. In 2012, Norman was given the endowed chair, and in the following year, became dean.
While she earned her degrees and landed job offers, Norman had other responsibilities as well. She was already a wife and mother to two children. She always managed to strike a balance between work and family.
How has the field of nursing changed for the better and for the worse since your career began?
“I think the role that nurses play has grown exponentially. Today, we do not have to convince people of the value that nurses bring. Both healthcare professionals and the public understand that nurses play an important role, and that advanced practice nurses are vital to our industry. People have also realized that we need nurse scientists and Doctorally prepared nurses as clinicians and administrators. I think that the field has grown tremendously in terms of academic advancements, but also in terms of nurses being viewed as key players in healthcare decision-making. In my opinion, the most significant growth has occurred over the past ten or fifteen years.
“I feel that some change still needs to be made regarding entry into practice. It can be confusing because right now someone could become a nurse through an Associate’s program, a hospital-based diploma program, or a Bachelor’s program. I would like to think that changing the laws to make the bachelor degree the only route would decrease confusion so people would understand that a nurse is a nurse is a nurse.”
Why did you decide to get your Doctorate of Science in Nursing?
“I needed my doctoral degree to stay in academics. When I went for my master’s that was the terminal degree in nursing. Shortly after graduating, I knew that in order for me to do what I wanted to do – be a leader in the academic arena- I needed to get my doctorate.
“During the time when I was getting my education, it was typical to take years between degrees in order to gain experience. We have learned a lot now, and that mindset is not longer true … You do not need years of experience anymore. Whether you want to do a research doctorate or a practice doctorate I would recommend going straight through. There are a few advantages: one of which is that you’re in study mode, which makes for an easier transition; another one is that if you get your master’s and start your DNP as a part time student while you’re working as a licensed NP, you can start applying the learning from your coursework immediately.”
How do you effectively balance your personal life with your work life?
“When I started my master’s I had a 15-month-old and a three-year-old. Even though they were active little people, they fell asleep at 7 pm. So I could study from 8 pm until midnight.
“When I started my doctorate, I had a sixth-grader and an eighth-grader, and they did not fall asleep at 7 pm. At this point, in addition to school I was working full-time as director of a nursing program. I had to figure out when I was a student, when I was director, and when I was a wife and a mom.
“I found out that I could not study when everyone else in the house was awake. I also realized that going to the library was unrealistic. I determined that I could accomplish more between two and four in the morning than I could at any other time of the day. No one was up, and even the dog was asleep! I started waking up at about 2 AM naturally. I would get up, and do my reading, or start my paper. Then, around 4 am, I would start to get sleepy, and I would go back to sleep. I would wake up again around 6 am and fool myself into feeling as though I had gotten a full night of sleep. I still wake up in the middle of the night to this day, especially during budget season. Being able to compartmentalize your various roles in life in order to give attention to whatever is needed at a given moment is the key.”
What advice do you have for nursing students of today?
“Look broadly for opportunities that you are truly interested in. I look at people who really flourish, and they find that one area that they are particularly passionate about. Try to land your first job in an area of healthcare that you love. This way, you will be energized to learn a lot. Whether it’s chronic disease, prevention, or anything else, find a niche that you love, and then what you do will not be your job … it will be your career.”