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Gennaro's Vision

New dean of Boston College nursing school breaks barriers to global education

Monday December 8, 2008
<b>Susan Gennaro, RN, (right) and <i>Nursing Spectrum</i> Editorial VP Judith Mitiguy, RN.</b>
Susan Gennaro, RN, (right) and Nursing Spectrum Editorial VP Judith Mitiguy, RN.
(Courtesy of Boston College)
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Susan Gennaro, RN, DSN, FAAN, has come home — again.

She thought she was home two years ago when she became the Florence and William Downs professor in nursing research at New York University. New York City was where she and her husband, also a nurse, had dreamed of settling. She was born on Staten Island; she had family in New York. It was where they would eventually retire. Then Boston College called.

"I wasn't looking to be a dean. I was very happy at NYU. It was a great fit," Gennaro says. "But the provost of Boston College said, 'We aren't looking for people who are unhappy in their jobs.' "

On July 1, Gennaro assumed the helm as dean and professor at the William F. Connell School of Nursing at Boston College. She and her husband, William Fehder, RN, PhD, CRNA, moved from their two-bedroom, 800-square-foot apartment in Manhattan to a three-bedroom, 2,450-square-foot house in the Boston suburbs. And now, she says, she really is home.

"There are geographical homes and there are spiritual and academic homes. Coming to Boston College, which is a Jesuit institution that believes in the development of values and service to others, is returning to my spiritual and academic roots," Gennaro says.

Colleagues gathered recently at Gennaro's induction ceremony.
(Courtesy of Boston College)
Jesuit Foundation

Gennaro's academic pursuits began at a Jesuit school — Le Moyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., where she graduated with an English degree. She was not going to be a nurse.

"My mother, my aunts, my cousin — all nurses — but not me," Gennaro says. "Then I got out into the real world and realized if I wanted to do something that makes a difference, travel anywhere and know that somebody had a better life because of something I did, then I should be a nurse."

Gennaro got her MSN — and a husband — at the Leinhard School of Nursing at Pace University in Pleasantville, N.Y. "Nursing school — it's where you go to meet a man," Gennaro jokes. "Bill and I learned everything we needed to know about parenting and building a life together in nursing school."

(Courtesy of Boston College)
Gennaro and Fehder have traveled around the country supporting each other in their career ascents. Gennaro has had geographically diverse positions including clinical jobs in maternal-child health in Torrance, Calif., and Charleston, S.C.; academic positions at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (where she received her doctorate), and the University of Pennsylvania, (where over a 20-year span she served as tenured professor and director of the Perinatal Graduate Program); the International Center of Research for Women, Children and Families; doctoral and post-doctoral studies; and the Center for Health Disparities Research — before going to NYU.

"Susan's appointment at Boston College is a tremendous loss for NYU, but it's great for the profession," says NYU College of Nursing Dean Terry Fulmer, who herself received two degrees from Boston College. "She is smart, visionary, highly effective, and generous and is one of our nation's leading nurse scholars. She will excel in all aspects of her role as dean."

Gennaro accepted the Connell deanship because of an extraordinary faculty that produces global nurse leaders, the school's emphasis on diversity, and its access to world-renowned medical centers, such as Massachusetts General and Boston Medical Center, she says. "Boston College is a premier institution that people come to from around the world," she says. "It's an amazing place for nursing students to live and learn about themselves and other cultures."

Gennaro is passionate about building upon the school of nursing's service and academic experiences abroad. "You learn so much about yourself when you are placed in other contexts. Global nursing is caring for other people who are not like you," she says.

(Courtesy of Boston College)
Vision of Nursing

Gennaro foresees nursing practice changing rapidly as new delivery models are developed to meet the tremendous needs of an aging and longer-living population.

"These changes are going to require the really smart people we have in nursing to develop new systems of care, which may mean more care at home," Gennaro says.

Gennaro promotes learning and adopting evidence-based practices from other countries. "There's so much we can learn from other cultures that can positively impact nursing practice."

(Courtesy of Boston College)
She points to hospitals in India that promote breastfeeding by posting signs of a baby bottle with a skull and crossbones symbol over it. The poster says, "If you want a cow's brain, feed your baby cow's milk."

"Clear support for breastfeeding is a practice we could transfer to the U.S.," she says.

Leader in Evidence-Based Knowledge

In addition to her academic responsibilities, Gennaro serves as editor of the Journal of Nursing Scholarship, a bi-monthly peer-reviewed journal of the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International, which publishes research from nurses around the world. Gennaro's field of research has been perinatal nursing.

Courtesy of Boston College
"Susan is one of nursing's foremost leaders in building a global body of evidence-based nursing knowledge," says Patricia Thompson, chief executive officer of Sigma Theta Tau International.

Gennaro is excited about the state of nursing science. "We have a whole body of knowledge we didn't have 20 years ago." One of Gennaro's primary goals at Boston College and as editor of the Journal of Nursing Scholarship is to move research from around the world into practice.

"The world wants to collaborate. The challenge is breaking down any barriers that prevent that from happening," she says. "That's what education is all about. It's a very exciting time to be dean."

Leslie Flowers is a freelance writer. To comment, e-mail editorNE@nursing spectrum.com.