A foot in two camps: an exploratory study of nurse leaders in universities

Ross, Fiona, Marks-Maran, Di and Tye, Christopher (2013) A foot in two camps: an exploratory study of nurse leaders in universities. Nurse Education Today, 33(11), pp. 1342-1346. ISSN (print) 0260-6917


BACKGROUND: Nursing education was fully absorbed into universities in the United Kingdom in the late 1990s and thus is a relatively young academic discipline. In contrast to a lively literature on clinical nursing leadership, little attention has been given to the leadership of academic nursing as these roles encompass contract management, research and teaching. OBJECTIVES: The purpose of this study was to explore the scope and meaning of leadership from the experience of nurse leaders in universities in the United Kingdom (UK). DESIGN AND METHODS: The qualitative design used open ended telephone interviews. Interview transcripts were checked with participants. Framework analysis was used for capturing and identifying themes. SETTING AND PARTICIPANTS: A convenience sample of academic nurse leaders (responsible for a School, Department or a Faculty) was identified through the UK Council of Deans of Health. RESULTS: All ten respondents were managing health care portfolios and running departments of various sizes and often with a mix of nursing and other health care disciplines. There was regional and country representation (England, Scotland and Wales) and half the respondents were employed at pre 1992 and half at post 1992 universities (the latter institutions that were previously polytechnics and gained university status in 1992). Three core issues emerged from the data: the leadership context; ways in which the deans articulated their leadership skills and the issue of legitimacy of nursing in higher education. CONCLUSION: Two important issues emerged for nursing deans, firstly the university as a knowledge producer and secondly the need to create strong academic and professional identities. The findings highlight role complexity as academic nurse leaders navigate the dichotomy between the different worlds of the university and health care practice. The legitimacy of nursing as a practice discipline in the university continues to be contested territory. There is an opportunity for nurse leaders to do more to develop a collective narrative about the contribution that academic nursing can make to the quality of the workforce.

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