Some people can take a vision and translate it into a tangible product, and Heather Young, RN, PhD, GNP, FAAN, leader of the proposed nursing school at University of California, Davis, is one of them. Fortunately, the accomplished leader, educator, and researcher combines visionary thinking and operational know-how with a strong sense of responsibility for improving the health of her community, an ethic that grew out of an upbringing in apartheid South Africa.
Young, a fifth-generation South African, was brought up in a health-oriented family in which her father was a medical ethicist, her mother was a nurse, and her grandfather was involved in care for the elderly. Her father was also an anti-apartheid activist during a politically volatile time in South Africa, and as a result, the family was forced to leave the country in 1974.
Growing up in that environment gave me a keen sense of disparity, of social justice, and an ethical sense of responsibility for what we need to do, Young says.
Nursing at WorkHeather Young, RN
Her family settled in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Young later attended UC Davis, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in dietetics in 1981. In clinical rotations, Young found herself drawn to the entire story in a patient’s chart — not just the nutritional section — and had a chance to observe nurses at work. Instead of pursuing a dietetic internship after graduation, she sought a nursing degree at Sacramento City College. I wanted to gain a more holistic view of the patient, she says.
Nursing jobs were scarce, so she headed to rural Oregon, where nurses were in demand. Young worked on the night shift in critical care at Bay Area Hospital in Coos Bay and enrolled in a BSN program at what was then Southern Oregon State College in Ashland.
With a BSN in hand and a desire to do more research, she applied to a doctoral program at the University of Washington, a program that typically required a master’s degree. They called me and said, ‘You don’t have a master’s degree.’ I asked, ‘Would you consider taking me anyway?’ and they did, says Young, who also completed a master’s degree and a geriatric nurse practitioner certificate in Seattle.
While in Washington, Young became involved in long-term care issues. She held a joint appointment between the University of Washington School of Nursing and as chief operations officer of ERA Care Communities, designing skilled nursing and independent living situations. She also conducted nursing studies and used the results to craft long-term care policy at the state level.
In 2003 Young left Seattle to help establish a rural health research center at Oregon Health & Science University School of Nursing, where her efforts focused on patient safety and improving physical activity for rural residents who often suffered from chronic illness and obesity. She also directed a geriatric nurse practitioner program.
Tapped by her alma mater in 2008, Young returned to UC Davis as associate vice chancellor for nursing, and will lead the new Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing, funded by $100 million from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. The first class of 50 master’s and eight doctoral students will enter in the fall of 2010, with bachelors’ degree students to follow a year later. In laying the groundwork for the school, Young is gathering input from a variety of constituents, including hospital nurses, other nursing schools, and national thought leaders.
The proposed nursing school will train leaders and emphasize care for rural, geriatric, and diverse populations. Students will also work side by side with other university disciplines, such as management and medicine.
Despite a national shortage of nursing faculty, Young regularly receives e-mails from interested applicants. I think it has to do with people wanting to do something different, what the school represents, and the opportunity, Young says of the program located on the 142-acre UC Davis Health System campus in Sacramento. I don’t want to be overconfident by any means, but I have a sense we will have a lot of interest in the program here.