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Published in CenterView on October 24, 2011
Janet Harris and Dr. Kim Hoover
Janet Harris and Dr. Kim Hoover

Harris, Hoover build unique academic-service partnership at UMMC

By Matt Westerfield

When Janet Harris wanted a bit of advice for a research course she took last year, she realized she could call on the help of the University of Mississippi Medical Center's "resident expert" in nursing research.

Late one day after work, the chief nursing executive officer for University Hospitals and Health System called Dr. Kim Hoover, dean of the School of Nursing.

Harris, who is working toward her doctorate in nursing practice at an out-of-state university, said Hoover was more than happy to look at her coursework and syllabus.

"She came by the house and said, 'He (the professor) is making this way too complicated. Let me make it simple for you,'" Harris said. "And that wasn't the only time in that course that she helped me."

As it happens, the top nursing executive at UMHC and UMMC's leader in nursing education have been friends since well before taking their current positions. But over the past few years, they have succeeded in leveraging that friendship to strengthen and enhance cooperation between the clinical and academic spheres of nursing.

Hoover is quick to point out that Harris is pursuing her doctorate online in part because she also teaches in the School of Nursing's in-house DNP program.

"Janet has always been there to help me with professional advice," she said. "I frequently sought her advice when I moved here and began my role as associate dean."

Hoover was named dean a year ago and before that, served as interim dean after Dr. Kaye Bender stepped down in 2009. Harris has served as chief nursing executive officer since early 2007.

"We had conversations before Janet took this position because we both thought it would be a wonderful opportunity for us to work together," Hoover said. The relationship between the clinical side of nursing and the school has not always been a good one, she said. "So the opportunity to grow that into what we knew it could be was exciting for both of us."

As a result of that outlook, nurse managers and frontline nurses are working with SON faculty and students more than ever before, spinning off a research initiative under the direction of Dr. Sheila Keller, senior director of research and evidence-based practice. Two years later, more than 14 studies and projects are on the books.

Harris said the School of Nursing has been elemental in connecting staff nurses with the research side of practice.

"In the hospital, we do not yet have the knowledge and expertise necessary in many areas in research and collecting evidence and the knowledge that these guys bring to the table because of their educational background," she said. "We realized that they had things that we needed, and we have the clinical laboratory that they need."

Hoover agreed that the relationship is mutually beneficial.

"For the education side, if we don't have a direct connection with practice, then we aren't connected in a way that helps us teach the students the most current practice, the most current standards, and we also don't have the relationship with the clinical nurses that we need who really are critical to educating our students," she said.

Hoover said the school regularly invites nurse educators from the hospital to speak to students in the classroom, and that often sparks an interest in graduate education. Students, meanwhile, get to hear real-life clinical scenarios that they otherwise might not have heard, adding value to their education.

This month, the fourth cohort graduated from the Leading through Applied Management Principles (LAMP) Program, led by faculty member Dr. Rebecca Askew.

Hoover said the level of cooperation they have attained is unique.

"There's a good bit being written now about academic-service partnerships, and we have both gone together or to different venues to talk about the work we're doing," she said. Rarely do they find nursing schools and clinical nurses collaborating at the level of the Medical Center.

"When I talk to nurse executives, I tell them they should expect something out of their schools of nursing," she said.

"Kim has done a wonderful job of coalescing the message of the School of Nursing, what its true vision is," said Harris, who added that Hoover shares an equal footing on her organizational structure. Conversely, Hoover says Harris is listed next to her on the SON organizational chart.

"We do now have people, when they hear about it, contact us and ask how it works out," Harris said.

When they occasionally find some down time, Harris and Hoover sometimes meet outside the workplace as well.

"We have known each other for quite some time," said Hoover. "Janet has been involved in professional organizations across the state and across the nation for awhile, so I knew her before I moved to Jackson. And I built a house in her neighborhood."

Harris said in the eight years they have known each other, she couldn't think of a cross word that's been spoken between them, although Hoover cautioned her not to jinx them.

"Janet has been part of a group of nursing leaders in the state who have been wonderful mentors for me. To be in a group of that many leaders in state organizations who have no professional jealousy whatsoever and can have fun is a rare thing," she said.

"Our challenge going forward is how to continue this," said Harris. "We've done so much already and we want to sustain that."