Q&A: Pitt’s new dean of the School of Nursing talks nursing, career trajectory


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Pitt recently named Christine Kasper the new dean of the School of Nursing.

By Quentin Tan, Staff Writer

Pitt’s School of Nursing is one of the most prestigious programs in the nation — ranked #15 by US News and World Report — and Christine Kasper is about to become captain of the ship. Kasper is slated to replace Jaqueline Dunbar-Jacob as dean on Jan. 1.

Kasper has significant previous experience. She served as dean of the University of New Mexico’s College of Nursing for four years. At UNM, enrollment in the college of nursing increased by 35%. Before joining UNM, Kasper also served as a senior nurse executive in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Nursing Services.

She has a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Evansville in Indiana, a master’s degree in nursing from Rush University in Illinois and a doctorate from the University of Michigan. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Can you share a little about yourself?

A: Well, originally, I’m from Chicago, and as I went through all my academic stuff, I somehow ended up at the University of Michigan for my PhD. Then I went to Rush University in Chicago, and did a postdoc in physiology and biophysics. 

My area of research has been skeletal muscle regeneration and highly genotoxic environmental exposures on muscle. I’ve been really lucky to have had some fabulous mentors in my career and graduated pretty young and stupid from my PhD program. I was 28. I genuinely was the terror of my faculty when you look back on it. 

I previously was a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, UCLA, and had an endowed Chair at the Johns Hopkins University. And from there, I was recruited to the feds, and the Federal Office of VA central office in DC, where I was to set up a PhD program for the federal nurses. So, I’ve  moved all over the country, and it’s been valuable to experience other research intensive universities.

Q: Why did you decide to come to Pitt?

A: That’s actually an easy one. The University of Pittsburgh and the School of Nursing, ever since I started in academia, has been one of the best, top notch leading schools of nursing in the country, and they’ve never been less than that. I am not one of the biggies in nursing. So when the opportunity came up, I said, ‘Oh my God, you know, you think I can do it? Okay, let’s go for it.’ At this stage of my career, I think I’ve had a wide variety of opportunities, because I really genuinely view the role of the dean as being the person to help facilitate the mission of the school, the academics and especially the faculty.

Q: Why are nurses such a vital part of the health care system?

A: Since the time of Florence Nightingale, nursing has cared for the whole person. We care for patients in the community, the hospital, and clinics, wherever they are.

It’s the nurses who are attending the families and the individual who’s been hospitalized. Nurses keep the whole place rolling. And really applying unique nursing knowledge to the care of the individuals, as well as work as a team player with the rest of the healthcare team. So with no nurses, I think all hospital systems would collapse. Many of those hospital systems are going through a heck of a time with a massive shortage of nurses

Q: If anything, what change would you make to improve Pitt nursing?

A: There’s a saying in nursing, which is the first step of the nursing process is assessment. I cannot answer [what changes she would make] until I speak with the faculty. They are the experts on what needs to be strengthened. My leadership style is very collaborative. I think the more people that are involved, the better information you have and really can make better decisions on where our organization can go.

Q: What advice would you give to a first-year nursing student?

A: Be very excited about the possibilities of one’s future career. The possibilities are endless, especially at a world-class university such as Pitt. Not only explore everything that is going on in the college, but with some mentorship, where can you connect, even outside the University. 

Frankly, I’m one of those that says on occasion ‘Hey, get your head out of the books,’ and go to that football game or hockey game. Be a student and enjoy the University.

Correction: The article has been updated to say that Kasper’s research is in highly genotoxic environmental exposures, not lightly toxic. The Pitt News regrets this error.