Cultivating and nursing a collective voice

linda mccauley

Nursing Dean Linda McCauley

Doctors and nurses at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia were seeing pediatric patients with gunshots wounds at an alarming frequency.

The hospital's trauma doctors had mobilized and spoken to the media about the issue. The mayor's office was getting involved. But where were the nurses?

Nursing professor Linda McCauley presented that question to her undergraduate students in a community health course at the University of Pennsylvania. "Where is nursing's collective voice in stopping the shooting of children? It's okay to patch and heal them, but why is nursing silent in the other areas?"

McCauley wants to see nurses speaking up and out in a collective voice. "Nursing is the most trusted profession and the largest in health care," she says, "but we don't go to the table. And we don't teach nursing students to join collectively to have a voice."

McCauley has a chance to rectify that as the new dean of Emory's Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing. Nationally known for her research on the effects of pesticides on migrant farm workers, she is a member of the Institute of Medicine.

Since she became dean in May, McCauley already has made a long to-do list. She wants to bring more researchers on board, and faculty recruitment is top priority. Programs can't grow without faculty, she says. In addition to the school's core areas of research in symptom management and chronic disease and midwifery and maternal health, she would like to explore the addition of research in palliative care or mental health.

In turn, stronger research programs should help grow the PhD candidate base, McCauley says. She wants to make sure undergraduates know that research doesn't always entail working with test tubes or sitting in front of a computer. "Students get mesmerized by clinical care," she says, "but research is fascinating and rewarding too."

McCauley wants to interest at least two students each year to pursue doctoral studies. To do so, she wants to introduce students to nursing science earlier in their education, in freshman and sophomore years. "By the junior or senior year, schedules have become so tight that students don't even want to think about staying in school longer," she says. 

McCauley's own venture into environmental health developed in the mid-1990s. She was studying Gulf War veterans while at Oregon Health & Science University when she met Juanita Santana, director of a Head Start program for children of migrant farm workers. 

Together the two undertook a five-year study on pesticide exposure. McCauley formulated the study parameters, and Santana provided a gateway into a population that often fears outsiders. Although the study raised the ire of some growers, the researchers were able to bring them on board by appointing the farmers to an advisory committee. Soon the growers wanted their own children and homes tested for exposure. 

"The study was successful because Linda was responsive to issues in the community rather than coming in and saying this is what I want to work on," Santana says. "She listened to the people and cared about them."

McCauley says community-based research is one of the hardest types of research to do, but the rewards are immense. She hopes to pass along her fervor to Emory's nursing faculty and students. —Kay Torrance

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