Harriet Feldman got into nursing because a dislike of public speaking dissuaded her from teaching. Now she regularly gives lectures to hundreds and thousands of people.
Feldman is the dean of the College of Health Professions at Pace University, running the Lienhard School of Nursing. In her 47-year career, she has been both a nurse and educator, helping to train the nurses and physician assistants of tomorrow.
As dean, Feldman, who joined Pace in 1993, oversees a student body of almost 1,000 people covering two campuses. One of the issues impacting nursing schools across the country is the shortage of faculty, as many find it more lucrative to work in nursing rather than teaching.
Pace has launched an alumni program called Grow Our Own, allowing Pace graduates who want to pursue their doctorate to become tenure-track faculty with the support of Pace.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity,” Feldman said. “The three people we have so far are fabulous. They are a real asset.”
Feldman said part of the decline in faculty is due to a nursing shortage that occurred between 2002 and 2006, as admissions dropped. She said that hospital mergers and other factors led to fewer nursing jobs available, and people decided nursing was not worth pursuing.
But in recent years, nursing has become more popular and interest in becoming a physician assistant has exploded.
“It’s a much more secure vocation,” Feldman said. “There’s more guaranteed work.”
The physician assistant program has exploded to the point that for every 10 qualified applicants, one is accepted. Pace has recently gotten permission to expand its program.
After 9/11, and with two wars being fought, Feldman said that more people have looked into the service industry. Many of her students have turned to nursing as their second career.
“They would like to be involved in a different life,” Feldman said. “They want to become caregivers. We’ve had musicians, ballet dancers. It’s a whole different varied group of people making this transition.”
Men have also slowly started going into nursing, as the stigma of male nurses eases over time. Despite that, Feldman said there are still hurdles to overcome.
She mentioned a survey of guidance counselors in New Jersey to assess whether they encouraged men to go into nursing. Men with interests applicable to nursing were steered toward being a doctor or physician assistant, but never nursing.
“People need to be educated more,” Feldman said. “Men see it as a chance to get into management and see it as a chance to continue their education.”
Besides serving as dean, Feldman also served as interim provost and spent four years as dean of education. In 1984, she earned a doctorate from NYU in research and theory development in nursing science, and holds a master’s degree from Adelphi University.
As dean, Feldman, who is currently on sabbatical, has complete oversight of the entire school, ranging from the budget to the curriculum.
“Everything I touch, I have ownership of,” Feldman said. “I have a wonderful staff.”
Feldman is looking at new and innovative programs at Pace that could be offered to students starting in the fall of 2014. While she declined to divulge specifics, she said Pace is looking at programs to offer students who after a semester of nursing may decide they don’t want to be a nurse but want to continue to pursue a career in health care.
“Right now they don’t have a lot of options,” Feldman said. “We want to give them that shift and bring in a different group of students.”
Throughout her career, Feldman has taken advantage of opportunities to continue to pursue higher education and take on more roles at Pace, even if it required being dean of two programs at once.
“I thought I was just going to be a bedside nurse forever,” Feldman said. “I went into administration and I loved it. I wanted to get more education and take care of a larger group of people. It’s a way to give back in different directions. It never happened by design.”
One of the skills Feldman said is needed to be a successful dean is to be able to hire talented people to help spearhead your vision.
“You have to trust the people to do their job so that you can do your job,” Feldman said. “Everyone I have hired has proven to be very dedicated. I don’t second guess or micromanage people. That detracts from what I am trying to do.”
Being passionate about what you do is another component in being a successful leader. Feldman is known at Pace for her energy and enthusiasm toward the program, and for always being quick to make a decision or reply to an email.
“I have loved every job I have ever had,” Feldman said. “I would not have traded any opportunity. It’s been so fulfilling. People ask me about retiring, but I am having too much fun. I like going to work.”