"We were being educated to be individuals who had a responsibility for our own intellectual growth, and to become leaders in our profession."
Vice President for Education and Dean at the Cochran School of Nursing, St. John’s Riverside Hospital
Kathleen Dirschel graduated from Adelphi’s School of Nursing in 1963 with a desire to continue learning. After finding a job at the NYU Medical Center she enrolled in a master’s degree program at NYU. Dr. Dirschel worked in the open heart surgery unit at the Medical Center and walked to Greenwich Village to attend graduate classes at NYU. She particularly enjoyed studying medical-surgical nursing in her master’s program. When Dr. Dirschel entered the doctoral program at NYU she furthered her studies into rehabilitation nursing as well as research, because she felt expertise in long term care would have a significantly
In 1971, Dr. Dirschel returned to her alma mater to become the director of the graduate program at Adelphi. She remained director at Adelphi until 1979, when she assumed the role of Dean of the School of Nursing at Seton Hall University. During her deanship, she took advantage of every opportunity that presented itself, including postdoctoral work at Harvard, where she completed a program in education administration. At Seton Hall Dr. Dirschel was instrumental in beginning exchange programs with hospitals and schools of nursing in China. The exchange program lasted for 10 years. The exchange program helped shape modern nursing education in China.
The University of Massachusetts at Worcester recruited Dr. Dirschel as Vice Chancellor and Dean to develop a graduate nursing program in 1985. She stayed at UMass until 1991, when Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center recruited her to be the executive vice president and chief nursing officer. Dr. Dirschel credits the prestigious institution for “establishing another level of nursing, significant in clinical excellence and the highest level of professional practice.” After working at Columbia for several years, Dr. Dirschel realized she missed patient contact and clinical care, so she went to work at a local hospital. She became the Director of Staff Development at the Valley Hospital.
In 1999, she joined St. John’s Riverside Hospital, in Yonkers, New York, where she still works today. She is the Vice President for Education and Dean at the Cochran School of Nursing, which is part of St. John’s Riverside Hospital. When she first arrived 10 years ago, there were only 50 students in the program; today it has grown to 350 students! Dr. Dirschel is also an adjunct professor at NYU, Teachers College, and Mercy College.
Dr. Dirschel is part of a true Panther family; her husband received his M.B.A. from Adelphi, her sister earned her master’s degree in nursing, and her daughter graduated in 1994 with a dual major in history and political science. In her free time, Dr. Dirschel enjoys tennis and swimming. She and her husband also love to go golfing and dancing. Dr. Dirschel and her husband have five children, three grandchildren, and another one on the way; they enjoy traveling wherever their children are.
When and why did you first want to become a nurse?
I knew I loved math, science, and caring for people. In the 1950s, the only options women had were to become a teacher, nurse, or secretary. Out of these three career opportunities, I felt nursing was the one that would involve the three things I loved most.
My mother was adamant that my siblings and I go to college. She wanted me to get my baccalaureate, not just my nursing license. I commuted to Adelphi from my home in Fresh Meadows, Queens.
Starting my first year at Adelphi I didn’t really know what nursing was. The faculty came together to create a vision for a nurse. The message I got from them was that we were not just learning to be nurses; we were being educated to be individuals who had a responsibility for our own intellectual growth, and to become leaders in our profession.
Do you have favorite memories of your time at Adelphi and your residencies?
I loved the liberal arts experience and really enjoyed the diversity at Adelphi; I participated in swimming, cheerleading, and modern dance. It was during my time at Adelphi that I realized I loved learning.
I remember being on campus when the library was being built. When it was erected in 1963, Adelphi College became a University.
I was part of the group of people that wrote the school song for Adelphi; it is still the school song today!
What advice would you give to today’s nursing students?
You are embarking on an occupation that is the richest profession in the world, in terms of experiences, colleagueship, and opportunity. The opportunities to climb professional ladders are enormous.
The heart of the profession of nursing is the patient. The nurse’s job is to take care of the patient; and support and guide the families. As a nurse, remember you are the patient’s advocate.
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