Nursing new life into UVA: Spotlight on Dean Dorrie Fontaine

May 01, 2013

When life hangs in a balance we rely on a select group of nurses who commit their lives in increasing our odds of survival. The training involved to join these corps of miracle workers is not for the faint of heart and the education they receive has to prepare them for this increasingly complex field of study. When the University of Virginia was looking for a new dean to head their School of Nursing, they saw fit to call Dorrie Fontaine and recruited her in 2008. Her reputation as a dedicated nurse, author, and associate dean at the University of California at San Francisco cemented her candidacy.

I had the chance to correspond with Dean Fontaine and learn more about who she is, and it became apparent that her dedication and common-sense approach to patient care and teaching sets her apart in the effort to train and direct a new kind of nursing professional.

Playing the cymbals in her marching band at Villanova University, Fontaine knew that she wanted to be a nurse.

"I always loved the intensive care unit and so became a critical care nurse," Fontaine says.

Although nursing is a career many people would avoid and find emotionally draining, Fontaine found her niche and sought to provide a humanist and common-sense approach to patient care. Understanding firsthand that the quality of care a patient receives is in direct correlation with the health of the workplace environment, Dorrie later sought to teach and promote these principles. She wanted to prepare nurses for the profession by teaching the skills necessary to take care of themselves, be accountable for their workplace, and be ready to always provide compassionate care for their patients.

As a scholar, Dean Fontaine's areas of expertise have focused on an in-depth look at the intensive care process and the promotion of a healthy workplace environment for nurses, doctors, and patients. Among her many published articles, she wrote, "Promoting a Healthy Workplace for Nursing Faculty and Staff" in the Nursing Clinics of North America. She sought to highlight the pitfalls of an unhealthy workplace and the toll it later takes on the quality of patient care.

She told us that "I have a commitment to creating a healthy work environment where all—faculty and staff—can flourish. We used appreciative inquiry as a strategic planning method and try to practice this way. I also have started a compassionate care initiative [which is] in its fourth year now where we are creating resilient nursing students and health care providers who can better care for themselves so that they can give excellent care to patients, families, and communities. We are engaged in inter-professional education training to all third year nursing and medical students together. We are a national model for this."

Dean Fontaine Has had many successes with her department since taking charge. One of which has been a recent poll by the US News who gave the School of Nursing a ranking of 15th for best graduate level nursing school in the United States for 2013.

So what's next for Dorrie Fontaine? Well aside from taking time to offer lectures and participating in seminars, she has managed to secure a new $5 million gift from Bill and Joanne Conway and says that she has plans "to double the size of our Clinical Nurse Leader Program and give students scholarships and hire new faculty."

In just a short amount of time Dean Dorrie Fontaine has made her mark on the University of Virginia and its reputation as a premier center of education for nursing students. Her love for the University and efforts to expand her department will undoubtedly facilitate the training needed for a new generation of aspiring nurses who will later go on to provide compassionate care for all. By Jyle Dupuis Image courtesy of UVA

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