Q&A with Dean Linda Johnston

21 September 2017

Dean Linda Johnston is internationally recognized for her contributions to the discipline of nursing. She is an Honorary Professor at the University of Melbourne (Australia), Visiting Professor at Soochow University (China), and an Honorary Professor at the University of Hong Kong. She is an Adjunct Professor at Vanderbilt University (USA).

Her professional activities have been notable, particularly as founder and chair of the Australian Collaboration of Neonatal Nurse Researchers, Fellow of both the European Academy of Nursing Science and American Academy of Nursing, and as past-Editor of the journal Neonatal, Paediatric and Child Health Nursing.

Her research interests include understanding the long term physical, social and emotional outcomes for babies and families experiencing surgery in the neonatal period. Her policy interests include clinical academic career pathways and the advancement of nursing research in the discipline.

What drew you to work in nursing?

Since I was 5 years old, I’ve known I wanted to be a nurse. Once I was in school, my teachers encouraged me to go into medicine. Even the matron who accepted people into the nursing school I attended tried to push me into attending medical school. However, I knew nursing was the right career for me.

Can you tell us a little bit about your career trajectory and what led you to serving as Dean here at the University of Toronto, Faculty of Nursing?

After graduating from nursing school at Evanston Hospital in Chicago, I worked as a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit at a hospital there. After a couple years, I moved back to Australia where I worked as a neonatal intensive care nurse for another 12 years, at which point I wanted to try something new. I went back to school and obtained a science degree – a double major in cell pathology and biochemistry. I did my PhD in viral immunology.

Once I completed my PhD, I went on to work at the University of Melbourne where I became the first Chair of Neonatal Nursing Research in Australia. Eventually, I moved on as the Head of School of Nursing and Midwifery at Queens University, Belfast for 6 years.

After my stint there, I learned about the vacancy for the role of Dean here at the Lawrence Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing at the University of Toronto. I have been Dean here for 3 years now.

What is your proudest career accomplishment? 

This is a tricky question because I’ve sort of had two careers. I was a researcher first before I moved into administration. From a research perspective, my proudest career accomplishment is my research with my then PhD student Denise Harrison, who is now Chair in Nursing Care of Children, Youth and Families at the University of Ottawa.

Our research focused on the use of oral sucrose for pain management in complex surgical babies. The recommendations for clinical practice arising from that  research were gradually implements in neonatal units across Australia and led to the routine use of oral sucrose in surgical babies across the country (and beyond).

I think my greatest achievement as an academic administrator was my role in profiling, to the UK government, the quality of nursing research undertaken in my previous institution; Queen’s University Belfast. We were able to demonstrate the social, economic, health and policy impact of our research and we ranked 7th of 94 Schools of Nursing across the UK for research intensity.

When you started as Dean for the Faculty, what was your vision for the Faculty?  

That’s a great question. There were a couple of aspects to the vision when I came into this role just three years ago.

One such priority was focused on internationalization. There is great value in strong international collaborations with leading universities, research institutes, and industry partners around the world, and in providing enriching and meaningful international opportunities to students. Recruitment of international faculty with reputations for excellence in teaching and research to contribute to a culturally diverse environment was part of this vision as well.

Another priority when I began was enhancing the experiential learning opportunities for our students with respect to giving them every possible opportunity through their undergraduate program in order to gain clinical practice experience. These experiences translate to increased competency when entering the job market. Employers are more likely to hire our graduates because they have significant breadth and depth of clinical experience throughout their undergraduate program.

2017 marks the 10 year anniversary of Lawrence Bloomberg’s $10 million donation to the Faculty of Nursing, making Bloomberg Nursing the first named Faculty in honour of this gift. Can you share some of the ways in which the gift has supported the Faculty? 

The financial support of Dr. Bloomberg’s gift has given our Faculty the opportunity to expand our programs, increase the use of simulation and technology in the classroom, deepen our support of nursing research, broaden and strengthen our partnerships both nationally and globally, and elevate our reputation as an international leader in nursing research and education. His landmark donation has allowed our Faculty to continue to provide a world-class education, support the leaders who teach our students, and help enrich the pipeline of prepared, skilled clinical nurses, researchers and nurse leaders.

Our Faculty has a lot to be thankful for in Lawrence Bloomberg’s foresight. He could see that a quality education is an important way to move nursing leadership forward. The impact of this historic donation is far-reaching and will continue to be felt by our students, faculty and the communities in which we live and work for years to come.

What are the priorities you see in nursing education/the nursing profession over the coming years?  

In the coming years there will be a fundamental shift in the setting for delivery of care – no longer acute hospital settings, but community care settings and people’s homes, and with a focus on primary care. Only the most complex cases and critical care will take place in hospital settings. A natural consequence will be a shift in the burden of care from healthcare professionals to families and caregivers.

We need to determine what the right supports are for these individuals and provide better integration of services to support this shift in care; priority lies in the integration of health and social care.

It is challenging to provide students with exposure to these types of environments, because there is limited capacity for student support in a community care setting. They don’t have the same workforce available as a resource as in a hospital, and of course there is a challenge in getting nursing students into people’s homes which is where a lot of care will be provided in the future.

The current perception of nursing is that the bulk of it takes place in hospital settings. In the media and on television, we don’t see people delivering care in homes; it isn’t how nursing and health care is currently viewed. A shift in perception of what nursing is and where it takes place is important to convey to our incoming students, and the public.

Nursing leadership has an impact not only on the lives of nurses, but also on the Canadian health care system as a whole. How does our Faculty help educate & nurture nursing leaders?

Many of our students come to us as natural leaders. Part of this is a reflection of the maturity of our students – they already have a degree when entering our programs, some of them even have Masters and PhDs in other fields. They come to us with a maturity that is gained through life experience. Our TASHN partners frequently comment on the leadership abilities they see in our students during their placements; the willingness of our students to take on leadership roles.

The introduction of our Health Systems Leadership and Administration Masters program –  designed to prepare nurses for formal leadership roles in healthcare systems – was  perceptive on the part of the Faculty. We recognized the need for Masters preparation for people who are moving into leadership positions. Graduates of that program are prepared for careers in health care administration, health policy, professional practice leadership, and other related roles.

Recognizing the need for more nursing leaders, our Faculty is planning the development of a PhD stream specifically designed for nursing executive leadership. This program will prepare nurses at the doctoral level to be organizational and system leaders in healthcare.