Dean of Adelphi University’s College of Nursing and Public Health
“Throughout my career, I have built foundations and put up framework.”
Dean of Adelphi University’s School of Nursing
Patrick Coonan ’78, Ed.D., received his degree from Adelphi’s School of Nursing in 1978. Little did he know then that he would return more than 25 years later to become dean of his alma mater.
Following graduation, Dr. Coonan spent the next 10 years moving around the Bronx and Manhattan as he held nursing positions in various capacities—as staff nurse, nurse manager, assistant director and director. As Director of the Emergency Department at St. Luke’s Hospital in New York City, he worked across the street from Teachers College, Columbia University. “I thought at some point in life I would end up in education,” Dr. Coonan said, so he enrolled in their graduate program.
While at Columbia, Dr. Coonan started teaching as an adjunct professor and, in the late 1980s, he took over the University’s critical-care nurse specialist program. He joined the full-time faculty at Columbia and ascended the administrative ranks to the position of associate dean.
In 1996, after deciding he wanted to return to the hospital setting, Dr. Coonan left Columbia for a new challenge as vice president for patient care for the episcopal health services system. Following this position, he worked for IBM as a project manager, responsible for opening up a help desk center in Melville and managing the site.
Dr. Coonan returned to healthcare as director of Rutgers University’s master’s nursing program, after which he went on to hold the position of chief nursing officer at Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center in Brooklyn and at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, New York.
In 2004, Dr. Coonan returned to his alma mater when he was named dean of Adelphi’s School of Nursing. In his current role, Dr. Coonan is responsible for overseeing the administration and operations of the nursing program, as well as policy, program development, quality and student outcomes.
“My whole career, I’ve been a builder. That’s what I am, a builder,” Dr. Coonan said. “Throughout my career, I have built foundations and put up framework.”
The transformation Adelphi’s nursing program has undergone since Dr. Coonan started as dean is evident. “When I began in 2004, the nursing program’s enrollment was at 465, there were 13 faculty members, and there was no Ph.D. program,” says Dr. Coonan. “Today, the nursing program has 1,300 students, as of September 2009 there will be 40 faculty, and the Ph.D. program is up and running, with 18 students enrolled.”
Today, Adelphi’s nursing program also has a division of professional development, which offers nursing courses, seminars and conferences for nurses to develop expertise in the procedures and technologies that are transforming healthcare.
“I’m proud of what I have done here so far, but we still have work to do,” says Dr. Coonan, who has great hopes for the School of Nursing as he looks toward its future.
Dr. Coonan has written and presented extensively on nursing management and leadership, emergency service and response, as well as health care operations. He also consults for several healthcare organizations. Dr. Coonan was recently inducted into Cambridge Who’s Who for his dedication, leadership and excellence in all aspects of nursing education. He is a member of numerous organizations, including the American Organization of Nurse Executives and the American College of Healthcare Executives.
“Professional organizations are great networks and a great representative voice for our profession,” says Dr. Coonan. “I have been a high-level administrator for a long time; I like to bring those skills to those who need them.”
Dr. Coonan and his wife, also an Adelphi alum, have been happily married for 32 years, and have four children, two of whom are currently enrolled at Adelphi; they are a true Panther family! Dr. Coonan enjoys photography and is a huge fan of Disney World; he and his family have visited the Magic Kingdom 17 times.
When and why did you first want to become a nurse?
I grew up in Lynbrook and went to Malverne High School; at that time I didn’t know what I wanted to do. My father was in the fire department, so I became a volunteer for the fire department and was involved with the ambulance and the rescue squad. This was the time before EMTs and paramedics; they were just starting to come to the scene.
When I graduated high school, I thought about getting into medicine, but nursing wasn’t even on my radar; in the 1970s, men didn’t often become nurses. After going to St. John’s University to be a pharmacist for one semester, I left and began working for a private ambulance company, transporting people to and from nursing homes and bringing wheelchair patients to doctor appointments.
My friend who was an EMT took a job for a doctor; he was responsible for driving the doctor to each of the hospitals he owned. One day my friend and I were talking about what I wanted to do with my life. My friend turned to me and said, “Why don’t you go to nursing school?” I had never planned on going into nursing, but asked him why he suggested that profession for me. My friend, whose job required that he be in hospitals all the time, said that he saw more and more men were getting involved in nursing, and that I would always have a job if I got into this field.
I started investigating. I applied to several schools, but I really wanted to come to Adelphi to get my degree. I got my acceptance letter in the mail and enrolled shortly thereafter. And as they say, the rest is history!
Do you have favorite memories of your time at Adelphi and your residencies?
I worked throughout my Adelphi years; you name it, I did it. I worked as an EMT, garbage man…I pumped gas in the summer, and picked up part time shifts for a private ambulance company.
When I came to Adelphi to begin my nursing education, I had experience pertinent to nursing that I had gained through EMT school; I could read an EKG, I could take blood pressures, etc. In lab, I often assisted the professor.
I had a lot of fun down in the Rathskeller. Even the commuter students hung out there.
There was one other male student in our entire nursing class. It sounds crazy, but I was just one of the girls, so to speak.
Justina Eisenhauer became my adviser at Adelphi. She really cared about her students. My sophomore year was an overwhelming year; my father passed away, and it was our first clinical year as well. She really kept me together, she kept me going. If it weren’t for Justina Eisenhauer, I wouldn’t be here today.
I was engaged to my wife sophomore year and married as a junior. I am proud to say that my last semester at Adelphi, I got a 4.0. I was the first member of my family to graduate from a four-year college.
What advice would you give to today’s nursing students?
You get out of it what you put into it. A nursing degree offers a significant number of opportunities in many different areas—in administration, the clinical setting, or in education. A basic nursing education gives you life skills you don’t even know you’re getting; you gain ethics and morals, develop organization and decision making skills, and learn to relate interpersonally. Ten years down the road you’ll find yourself saying, “I learned that in nursing school.” I wouldn’t trade my nursing degree in for a minute. Nursing has been very good to me and allowed me to invest in my many diversified interests.
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