F. Patrick Robinson, PhD, RN, FAAN, took the helm as dean of Capella University’s Nursing and Health Sciences program in early 2015. Mike Buttry, Capella Vice President of Corporate Communications, sat down with Dr. Robinson to learn more about his background and how he plans to make an impact in Capella’s nursing program.
Here are some highlights from their conversation. [NOTE: Conversation has been edited for clarity and length.]
Q. What led you to a career in nursing?
A. It was a very logical choice given my family background and work experience. When your dad is a doctor and your mom is a nurse, your summer jobs are being a nursing assistant or an orderly.
As I had been working in these types of health care jobs since I was 15, I was drawn to the familiarity of being part of a health care team and found nurses were always very inviting to me, very comfortable. So I thought, yes, this is something that I can do. I toyed with pursing a professional acting career, but quickly came back to the more pragmatic choice: nursing.
Q. Tell us about your educational journey in nursing.
A. As I got into school, I realized nursing was actually pretty cool and that there was a lot I could do with it. I was drawn to the whole idea of being both an academic and a researcher.
I went straight through getting my bachelor’s to getting my master’s degree. It was the height of the AIDS epidemic at that time, and that was the focus of my clinical career and, eventually, my doctoral studies. My dissertation examined the effect of meditation and yoga on actual immune response in advanced AIDS. You could say I was trained at the bench in immunology. In my post-doc, I started to look at the effects of exercise on immune function and health in HIV patients.
Q. What allowed you to be successful in the pursuit of your PhD? What would you say to Capella students if they asked you: How am I going to be successful?
A. I think if you have the desire to get a PhD, you have the ability to get a PhD. For me, it’s about perseverance. It is a long, long journey that requires tenacity. I wanted to be a professor shortly after I got to college. The whole process of being a teacher always excited me; maybe that is a little bit of the frustrated actor in me. But because I wanted to be in the classroom with students so badly, it just always drove me.
I always knew what my goal was: to get a big federal grant that would launch my career. I knew that if I just kept trudging, I was going to make it. And I did.
A lot of my success had to do with my post-doctoral mentor. I did a three-year post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Illinois, where I had the best mentor in the entire world, Dr. Joan Shaver. (She’s now a dean at the University of Arizona.) By the time I left Illinois 10 years later, I had my research funding, I had taught what I wanted to teach, and I was the executive associate dean of the college.
Q. Talk more about what made Dr. Joan Shaver a great mentor.
A. As my post-doctoral mentor, Dr. Shaver didn’t force me into any kind of traditional mold. She knew that I was very interested in curriculum development and gave me my first administrative position as an untenured assistant professor. She always listened and called me out when I said the wrong thing in a meeting, or if people were talking about me. It toughened me up. To this day I still look to her as my mentor.
I did not even think about talking to Capella about this job until I asked Joan: What do you think? What do you know? So, to me, what makes a good mentor is carving out that time and really listening to what that person wants to be, not making him your mini-me.
Q. Shifting gears a little, you are also the President of the National Association of Nurses in AIDS Care and an officer of the HIV-AIDS Nursing Certification Board. Talk about that work and the importance of engaging in professional societies.
A. Part of my life has always included that service component. As soon as I graduated from my undergraduate program and became an AIDS nurse, I became a member of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, and then a member of the certification board as soon as it was formed. For 15 years, I held elected or appointed positions within the association.
I consider being highly involved in professional societies an ethical and professional obligation. In nursing, public health, and health care administration, there are robust professional associations with tons of subspecialties. That is where the work is. That is where the action is. That is where policy is influenced. Why wouldn’t you want to be a part of that?
You have to start off going to meetings, volunteering on committees, and eventually going for an elected officer position. I think it will really make an impact on individuals’ careers. It did mine. That is where you find mentors, too. There are tons of people I met in those early days that I still call when I need something.
Q. Talk a little bit about the evolving role of nursing and what it means for our school.
A. I do not think it’s an exaggeration to say that there are few professions right now more dynamic than nursing or health care in general. Factors causing monumental shifts include the passage of the Affordable Care Act, baby boomers at the peak age for health care needs, and the rise of consumerism. The role of nurses and other health care professionals changes along with all of that.
Shortages of nurses and health care workers are driving change as well. This means we have to design the professional role differently. Nursing is shifting from being only about very technical, close, hands-on care, to include increasing demands for coordination and high-level problem solving. And there is the burgeoning role of advanced practice nurses in primary care.
Capella is keeping up with that by making sure we are very responsive to employers. With our competency-based education approach, we go out and ask employers: What are the competencies you are looking for in an experienced nurse transitioning to the baccalaureate level? What are the competencies you are looking for in a nurse leader? And we are responding to those needs by continuously improving our current offerings and creating cutting-edge new ones.
Dr. Patrick Robinson talks more about the changing role of nurses in a guest post on the American Nurse Today blog:
Q. What are some of the needed competencies you’re hearing about as you investigate in the field?
A. I think care coordination and inter-professionalism are hot on everybody’s list right now. That makes perfect sense, because health care is a team effort. Lack of communication and an inability to understand each other results in poor quality, errors, and uncoordinated care. We’re weaving those competencies into our undergraduate offerings. We have already created our master’s and certificate programs in care coordination. So we are keeping up.
Q. What advice do you have for nurses who are looking to go back to college to earn an advanced degree?
A. First of all, you need to take a personal assessment asking yourself: Is this the right time for me and my family? Do I have the right resources to do it? How does the program fit into my personal set of circumstances and resources? And you always want to make sure that the program has accreditation.
I tell prospective students to look for programs that take into account prior experience and allow you to progress faster as you demonstrate your competency in a given area. In this way, you can move through more courses in any given term on the way to a BSN.
In terms of balancing personal, professional, and academic life, a plate is only so big. You have to look at your full plate and take something off. There are certain parts of your personal life that you will have to temporarily shove off the plate. You will have to apologize a lot to your spouses, partners, children, and family members, but hopefully they will understand that your focus needs to be on school and work.
On the other hand, there are things that you should not give up. You cannot let exercise, healthy eating, and sleep fall off. So the more flexible the program—for example, Capella’s RN-to-BSN FlexPath option—the better.
Q. What is the best advice you can give to nurses and potential online nursing students?
A. The best advice I got, and the best advice I give: Don’t follow rules. I know that sounds strange. But nursing has struggled and been held back by traditional thinking. In nursing, I think we need more breaking of rules and coloring outside the lines. A lot of that comes down to advocacy. You know, taking your place at the table, and fighting for what is right for the patients.
Learn more about Capella’s online nursing programs.