To meet the damand of students and the job market, Lehman College is combining some of its most successful departments – Nursing; Health Sciences; Social Work; and Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences – into a new School. Meet the people who are making it happen in the first of a four-part series.
A new wave of nurses, educated and trained in the Bronx, hopes to offset the borough’s reputation of being the least healthy county in New York State. Hundreds of Lehman College nursing graduates are taking a more active role as nurses and primary care practitioners for Bronx residents, while doctors scramble to keep up with patient demands, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.
The health care sector accounted for one-quarter of the borough’s jobs last year, with Bronx Lebanon employing 200 nursing graduates from Lehman. Montefiore Hospital, Bronx Lebanon, and the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, which includes Lincoln Hospital, Jacobi Medical Center, and North Central Bronx Hospital, are also top employers of Lehman’s newly-graduated registered nurses and family nurse practitioners.
“The Bronx is worst off of all New York City boroughs on almost every major barometer of health, from infant deaths to cancer to HIV/AIDS. Nurses must be effectively educated to manage all aspects of these chronic diseases,” said Carl Kirton, Chief Nursing Officer at Lincoln Hospital. “In addition, nurses must address factors which significantly impact health such as substance use, poverty, unemployment, and obesity, all of which are significant social problems affecting the health of Bronx residents.”
Many nursing graduates started their careers at Lincoln Hospital, which has a long-standing clinical partnership with Lehman College. Kirton is an alumnus himself, having graduated from Lehman’s nursing program in 1986 where he was exposed to a variety of hospitals and clinical settings in the Bronx community.
“When I graduated in the 1980s, nursing was very different. Today, nurses have more responsibilities and a greater role in delivering patient care,” he said. “The work requires much more critical thinking, data aggregation and analysis, and continuous quality improvement. We need nurses educated not only in traditional ambulatory care but in independent chronic disease management, telephone interventions, case management, and nontraditional health settings such as mobile vans, churches, and barber shops.”
When Lehman’s Department of Nursing was created forty years ago, it was the first CUNY program to offer a degree that would prepare nurses with physical assessment skills on the undergraduate level. Early on, many of the students trained to become nurse practitioners and learn how to examine, diagnose, and treat patients. Today, it is a nationwide requirement for nurses with advanced degrees.
“Lehman has always had a kind of visionary approach when it comes to the education of its nursing students,” said the Chair of the Nursing Department, Professor Catherine Alicia Georges, who has worked at Lehman since 1975. “This department has been an innovator and has been bold in seeking the kind of clinical partnerships throughout its history that will not just benefit our students but provide immediate service in communities.”
In the 1980s, Prof. Georges pioneered the use of the prison health center setting as a clinical laboratory for New York nursing students. She inaugurated a new partnership with Montefiore Medical Center, which sent Lehman nursing students to New York City’s Rikers Island jail for clinical trainings. One of the first students to enter the jail program was Fazal Yussuf (Nursing, ’83) who went on to become the vice president of Rikers Island’s health services where he now oversees a staff of more than 1,100 employees. In many ways, his training in the Bronx prepared him to face the challenges encountered in a corrections setting.
“The functions of a nurse here are not as different as nurses on the outside. The expectations are the same,” Yussuf said. “What we do here at Rikers is more and more becoming a public health model. It is one of the few places where you can find at any given time such a large conglomerate of people with the most chronic illnesses. A lot of them may have never gone to the doctor before they get arrested and come here.”
Although the partnership at Rikers ended in the late 1990s, the facility still provides clinical training opportunities for students and attracts many nurses interested in pursuing a career in mental health. Being one of the largest jails in the country, Rikers’ rehab and mental health treatment program serves a large population of mentally ill patients every day.
“Nursing is about protecting the lives of all people. We see them in the community, we see them in school, we see them in the workplace, and across the life cycle,” Prof. Georges said. “One thing we tell our students is that, regardless of how long people live, for the most part of their lives, they live in the community. That’s where we have to solve problems and where we have to overcome the challenges. Nurses are there when you come into this world, and we are there when you leave it.”