School of Nursing’s new dean seeks to advance science of patient care

09/11/15 – BOSTON, MA. – Nancy Hanrahan poses for a portrait by Robinson Hall on Sept. 11, 2015. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

At the University of Pennsylvania, Nancy Hanrahan led a team of students and faculty that developed a Web-based toolkit to help nurses recognize symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans and facilitate effective care and interventions. Last year, the White House highlighted this work among other innovative projects that addressed mental health issues facing veterans.

“That really crystallized for me a major premise that I operate from,” Hanrahan says of the recognition she received from the Obama administration. “Nurses are the perfect vectors for influencing public health change.”

Hanrahan, who joined Northeastern this summer as professor and dean of the School of Nursing and associate dean of the Bouvé College of Health Sciences, will continue working to increase access to and awareness of the toolkit, especially for nurses at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Innovation and interdisciplinary approaches
The toolkit resulted from an incubator program that Hanrahan established at Penn to help students and faculty develop their ideas in healthcare innovation. At Northeastern, a signature of her deanship will involve helping nursing students and faculty think of themselves as innovators in improving public health through technology, and facilitating collaborations with experts in other disciplines in and out of Bouvé.

“The future is in interdisciplinary education that generates innovation promoting safe, effective, efficient, equal, timely, and patient-centered health,” she says.

Nurses are the perfect vectors for influencing public health change.
— Nancy Hanrahan

Prior to her academic career, Hanrahan spent 25 years practicing in the healthcare field as a nurse clinician and an administrator. She says Bouvé’s emphasis on taking interdisciplinary approaches to solving healthcare problems was a key factor in attracting her to Northeastern. Another was the university’s experiential learning model.

“Nursing is a practice discipline,” Hanrahan says, “and Northeastern’s experiential learning programs put students into environments where they may be working one day. They learn critical skills around science, practice, and workplace dynamics.”

She adds, “I’m excited about advancing the science of patient care, and I know I’ve landed in a good place.”

Hanrahan’s current research centers largely on mental health, including the PTSD toolkit. In another recent study of 120,000 hospitalizations in Philadelphia’s health system between 2011 and 2013, she found that patients with serious mental illness were at much higher risk for readmission.

In annual Gallup polls since 2002 asking Americans to rate the honesty and ethics of various professions, nurses have topped the list each year. Hanrahan attributes this resounding public trust to nurses’ roles in helping patients face, manage, and transition from the health issues they encounter in their daily lives.

“There’s something about the fact that we are given authority by society to be at the bedside with people during some of their most difficult times,” she says. “If you have an illness, you’re scared, and the person you’re most likely going to turn to is your nurse.”