Dr. Coonan spoke to "Nurse Leader" about returning to his alma mater to lead its College of Nursing and Public Health.
In an interview published by Nurse Leader, Patrick Coonan ’78, Ed.D., dean of the College of Nursing and Public Health, spoke candidly with reporter Launette Woolforde about his career and decision to be a nurse, his growth as a leader in the profession and returning to his alma mater as dean. Below are some excerpts.
LW: Tell me a little about why you chose nursing, or did nursing choose you?
PC: I get that question a lot. I chose nursing. I wasn’t always sure of what I wanted to do. As a teenager, I was a volunteer in the fire department, and through that, I learned about emergency care. In those days, there was really no such thing as an EMT [emergency medical technician] or paramedic. So when the EMT program came out in New York, I took the first class. During that time, I also drove a private ambulance for a while, again because I had this interest in health care. I went to college in pursuit of a degree in pharmacy, but in my first semester, I quickly realized that was not for me. Still, that drive for a career in health care persisted. Over the following three to four years, through the work I was doing and conversations with friends, I gained exposure to nursing and became very interested in it. I applied to several schools, got accepted at Adelphi (which was my first choice), and as the saying goes, “The rest is history.”
LW: How does it feel to be back at the school that launched your entry into the nursing profession?
PC: It feels great! …This is the school that made a nurse out of me, and I came back here firmly believing that there was no one who was going to do this job better than me. And I told the team that during my interview process. I said, “This is my home. This is where I went to school. There will be no one that you can hire that will do this job with as much passion as I will.” I have a vested interest in making this school the best it can possibly be. I never imagined I’d be the dean here. Quite frankly, I was a good student, but I was no superstar. So, to be able to sit here and say a “good” student wound up being the dean speaks volumes to the great journey I’ve had.
LW: The School of Nursing is now the College of Nursing and Public Health. Talk to me about that journey.
PC: I love to see progress, and this growth and expansion of the College of Nursing and Public Health is an amazing one. At one time, we had 465 students, 10 faculty, 1 graduate program, and no Ph.D. program. Now, there are 50 faculty and 20 staff, 1,600 students, programs at the undergraduate, graduate and doctoral level, and a new state-of-the-art building well underway.
LW: What are some of the strategies you’ve implemented to achieve your outcomes?
PC: It’s important to me that the graduates reflect the caliber of nursing we embody at the College, and the University for that matter. I spent a significant amount of time carefully selecting faculty. We came together and raised admission criteria for students while simultaneously assuring that our curriculum was stringent and rigorous. We keep raising the bar, and the students in turn continue to meet our expectations, thus raising the bar even higher. It’s a pleasure when I talk to my peers in the community and they tell me, “Pat, we love having your students” or “we love having your graduates.” This is the type of feedback that keeps me certain that our program is on track.
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