Jeanne Novotny

Jeanne Novotny’s vision is ambitious. She aims to build Texas Tech’s fledgling nursing school in El Paso into a nationally known institution by recruiting top faculty and researchers, dramatically expanding enrollment and launching new degree programs.

Last month, Texas Tech named Novotny founding dean of the Gayle Greve Hunt School of Nursing, replacing interim dean Josefina Lujan.

El Paso businessman and philanthropist Woody Hunt’s $10-million donation established the nursing school named in honor of his wife, Gayle, just over two years ago. The school admitted its first 40 students in fall 2011.

Right now, the nursing school is temporarily housed in a cramped, yellow building at 415 E. Yandell, the old JDW Insurance building.

But work on the school’s new $11-million building, located within the footprint of Medical Center of the Americas, begins in August. It should be done in about two years.

Novotny grew up in Cleveland and earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing from Ohio State. She earned a doctorate in philosophy from Kent State.

From 2001 to 2011, Novotny was dean of the School of Nursing at Fairfield University in Fairfield, Conn. She led the school through accreditation visits, grew enrollment and established several new programs.

She’s also written several books, including “The Nuts and Bolts Approach to Teaching Nursing” and “Distance Education in Nursing.” Both won the American Journal of Nursing’s Book of the Year Award.

Novotny has also traveled extensively, consulting with the National Autonomous University of Mexico and Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. She has also worked in Zimbabwe, Africa, developing graduate level courses and consulted with the University of Padua in Italy.

Novotny sat down with El Paso Inc. at her office in the Yandell building and talked about the need for more nurses, why more men should consider the profession and her plans to transform the school into a nationally known institution.

Q: Why did you take the position here?

When somebody approached me about applying, I thought it was a fantastic opportunity because the city is in a renaissance and I love the rich cultural heritage.

The demographics of the area are going to be the demographics of the nation before too long, so it provides many opportunities for scholarship and for the development of nursing science.

Q: Your career has taken you around the world. Tell me a bit about your travels.

That’s one of the beauties of being a nurse – that there are so many opportunities nationally and internationally. Consulting has taken me to Africa, Latin America, South America. It’s all through nursing, and I don’t think a lot of nurses realize what wonderful opportunities are out there for both men and women. One of my goals is to get more men involved in nursing.

Many professions have had an equalization in men and women, but nursing has lagged behind. There are so many career opportunities in nursing that can give you a life of satisfaction that is so unique. There are nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives. It’s so critical in this time – an aging population, all the chronic illnesses, diabetes, disease prevention – and nursing is the lynchpin of a healthcare system.

Q: What’s keeping men out of the profession and how might you encourage more men to get involved?

To let them know what the career opportunities are and the kinds of salaries they can generate. Sometimes people think the salaries are low, but that is all changing. When you get into levels of education beyond the baccalaureate degree, there are opportunities for you to move up in administration, for example.

If you are in administration, you have to understand what goes on at the bedside and you have to know what it is like to provide safe, quality patient care. With patients today, the care is so complex.

Q: What does that mean for nurse education and the way you might shape the curriculum here?

What has already been established here is totally awesome. The faculty is fantastic and the curriculum they are using, which is from Lubbock, is absolutely the best. The school has had a site visit from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education – that happened last September. The board meets in April to decide whether or not to give the school of nursing accreditation for the next five years. That’s as long as you can get for the first time you apply; it is the gold standard for nursing accreditation.

Q: Apart from the accreditation effort, what is the first order of business?

I hope to attract some high-level people to be on the administrative team and also to attract some new faculty in addition to the wonderful faculty we already have – hopefully, faculty with doctorates to really bring up the standard. One of my goals is to make this school nationally known, so I want to make sure that we are on par with other schools in the nation.

Q: What does a nationally known school look like?

A nationally known school has baccalaureate programs, master’s programs and doctoral programs, and faculty who are doing nursing research and scholarship and advancing the science of nursing.

Q: Where is the school now? How far away are you from that goal?

It’s a big goal. If we want to be recognized like the schools of nursing at, say Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore or Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, we have to bring some pretty powerful nurse leaders here. I’m very fortunate. I have a great network across the nation, and, hopefully, we will be able to attract some people to El Paso.

Q: What are some of those high-level positions?

Well, it would be like a nurse researcher. Another one would be a graduate program director and another, somebody who is very involved in computer simulation teaching.

Q: What is your strategy to recruit people to these positions?

It really involves a lot of networking. I had a conversation Sunday morning with someone who might be interested in a position here in nursing research.

Q: What’s your sales pitch?

I tell people it’s all new so you can essentially build what you want. That’s one of the things that attracted me. What we have is great, and we just want to bring it to the next level. It’s like if you can dream it, you can make it happen.

Q: An ambitious vision like the one you describe requires funding. The Hunt Family Foundation provided the initial $10-million investment. How will the school be funded going forward?

Well, that will be one of the things I have to work on, generating more funding. It’s going to take time to build. I will work with the development office to find other donors who want to support nursing. To get some endowed chairs is also a great way to attract people to this area. Also, our student enrollment will increase.

Q: What are your targets for enrollment?

Hopefully, we will have 300 undergraduate students by 2015.

Q: When does the school out grow this building?

We are going to break ground on the new building in August, and we should be in there in the next 20 to 24 months.

Q: Could you tell me a bit about the new building?

It’s a dream; it’s a vision. A group of us went to Abilene to see the new school of nursing there a few weeks ago. The building they have there is really great. The same architects are going to do our building, which is exciting. We really liked what we saw in Abilene.

Q: How are nursing and nursing education changing? When I go to the doctor these days, I am most often referred to a nurse practitioner. It seems nurses are playing an ever-greater role in the health care industry.

Nursing is changing dramatically. The Institute of Medicine in 2010 put out a major study. It established several goals. By 2020, 80 percent of the nurses in the country need to have a minimum of a baccalaureate degree.

Q: Why is that?

Because of the complexity of care. You have to have nurses with a strong scientific background who can keep patients safe. Nurses often function completely independently or are collaborating with physicians with nurse practitioner rolls, nurse anesthesia, midwifery. In all of these things, nurses are much more independent than they used to be. But we love our physician colleagues, and we are in collaboration with them; we are not in competition with them.

Q: The doctor/nurse relationship isn’t always a seamless one. Will the school teach that?

It isn’t always seamless, but if you can educate people together… One of the touch points we will develop here is in the simulation lab. There are certain techniques that the medical students and nursing students here can learn together. In that way, as they get out into the workforce, they know how to be an interprofessional team.

Q: One of the aims of healthcare reform is to get many more people insured. Given El Paso has a particularly high rate of uninsured patients, and those patients may soon be seeking primary care they wouldn’t have before, I’m guessing there is going to be an even greater need for nurses going forward.

Primary care will be done by nurse practitioners. In terms of these new people coming in for primary care, a family nurse practitioner is going to be the primary care provider.

Q: And like you said, that means nurses are going to need higher levels of education. Is there a large pool of potential nursing students in the region?

In our last class, 87 percent called El Paso or the region home. Also, as we become more nationally known, we are going to attract more people from the outside. I tell the students if you can dream it, we can make it happen. Nursing is not a job – it is a career. Every time you get another degree, more doors open to you.

Q: What degrees are offered here at the school now?

We don’t have any graduate degrees at the school yet. We have the two undergraduate degrees – the traditional undergraduate baccalaureate and the second-degree baccalaureate.

Q: What programs do you hope to develop next?

We’ll have to do a needs assessment and see how we can partner with other institutions like the University of Texas at El Paso, with Lubbock, with other schools in the area, and find out what their programs are. We don’t want to duplicate.

Q: You raise a good point. There are quite a few nursing programs in El Paso. Why does El Paso need more?

There are just so many ways nurses are going to be really needed in El Paso and on a national level. So I see nothing but a fantastic career for anybody who starts today.

Email El Paso Inc. reporter Robert Gray at or call (915) 534-4422 ext. 105.