How did you come to be the dean of College of Nursing and Health Sciences at Hawaii Pacific University?
I was director of the school of Nursing at San Francisco State for 13 years. I really enjoyed my work, but there were some aspects of the bureaucracy that made it difficult to affect change. I started looking for a position with the opportunity to develop programs, influence curricula, and work with faculty in ways that I couldn’t at San Francisco State. Hawaii Pacific University is a small, private university. It is much more nimble than a state-run system, more cutting-edge and innovative.
My husband is a surfer, and he always wanted to live here for the surf. And, I must say, I’m enjoying my commute much better. I used to live in Sonoma County, and my average daily commute going to and from work was about 4 hours. Now, my commute is less than 30 minutes, both ways.
What are some of your early leadership lessons that help you in your current role?
One of the lessons I learned early on is to listen. I did home care for many years. I was not only a case manager, but I was a director of a home care agency for the nursing division. Working with patients and nurses who are case managing patients, you have to learn to listen before you make decisions.
Then, with Catholic Healthcare West, now Dignity Health, I did performance improvement for seven years. Within the hospital system, you’re working with professionals with all sorts of different educational backgrounds and specialty areas. Learning to work collaboratively with people who view things differently was a key learning experience. Now I oversee not only a school of nursing, but a school of social work and a public health department. I work with professionals who have different perspectives on health and the environment. Those early lessons in performance improvement serve me well.
Can you describe the most important occupational or environmental health issues in your region?
I remember the research that Marion Gillen was doing several years ago on occupational safety, particularly among construction workers. We’ve had a few incidents lately on Oahu where construction workers have been injured. They’re either not using the safety equipment or they’re not using it properly. In Kakaako, near Waikiki, they’ve constructed six high rises in the last three to four years and there are another eight or nine more going up. As is true nationally, worker safety is of primary importance in the construction industry in Hawaii.
The other issue unique to Hawaii is that, unlike many other states, there are no emission standards for automobiles. There’s been a lot of research on the health effects of inhaling exhaust particulates, especially for those who live next to heavily trafficked roadways. Research needs to be done to ascertain the health effects on local population of pollution from cars and trucks in Hawaii. Results of studies done on the mainland may not be transferrable to Hawaii given the unique atmospheric conditions of living on an island.
On environmental health, we’re facing a lot of the same issues as many coastal communities globally. We also have water quality concerns because of run-off from road surfaces and hillsides. Other issues impacting water quality and marine life are over fishing in some parts of the state and the impact of tourism on reef integrity. Since a major food source for the state is fish and other seafood, assuring good water quality and sustaining a healthy ecosystem is important to the health of the state’s residents.
How can you help COEH expand their reach in Hawaii?
I think the key is to engage faculty. A starting point is to identify faculty who are interested in these issues and mentor them to develop research programs specific to Hawaii. What is really profound to me is the commitment that faculty has to the communities on this island, and how they actively engage with those communities. I think there are great opportunities to work with local communities to address their occupational and environmental health concerns and make a positive impact on their quality of life.
As Dean, do you have any advice for students in the field of occupational and environmental health?
Students need to understand that it’s engagement with the community that’s going to have the largest impact. When the community owns the problems and is involved in finding the solution, you’re going to affect change. That is the most important thing I tell all of my students.
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