Categories: College of Nursing & Health Care ProfessionsSpotlight

Nurse of the Year nominee exudes leadership

Dr. Rose Saunders in the simulation lab at Grand Canyon University.

By Theresa Smith
GCU News Bureau

Taking vital signs, administrating medication, drawing blood and preparing patients for surgery are just a few of the tasks performed by nurses. Offering prayers, a gentle touch and a cheerful smile are just a few of the gifts offered by nurses. Preparing nurse educators to develop compassionate, skilled nurses is the lifelong work of Grand Canyon University’s Dr. Rose Saunders.

A nominee for one of 12 awards at the March of Dimes Nurse of the Year luncheon June 15 at the The Camby Hotel, Saunders graciously rejected the spotlight, instead turning it on the faculty and students of the GCU College of Nursing and Health Care Professionals (CONHCP). While nursing for most people is truly a calling, the nurses produced by GCU rise to another level, according to Saunders, who was the dean of four nursing schools, including a trio on the East Coast.

Saunders (right) greets nursing educators at the National League for Nursing Convention.

“I chose to be employed by GCU because of the Christian philosophy and the Christian worldview,’’ she said. “I’ve worked in a lot of different nursing programs. The majority were faith-based institutions, and the last two were not, and there is a huge difference. GCU truly does walk the talk. From the very top, from the president on down, the mission and philosophy is integrated into everything: into the athletic activities, into the classes, into the interactions between faculty and students, and it is very respectful.’’

Amid Saunders’ first week on campus, in 2016, she arrived at Chapel 20 minutes early, yet she could not find a seat.

“Chapel is not a requirement and yet 7,000 seats were filled, so I stood and saw the energy and the commitment to Christianity,’’ she said. “It permeates all the programs, especially nursing. Some nursing programs have a “Spirituality in Nursing’’ course. GCU does not have that course and they don’t need it because the Christian worldview is infused in all of the courses, whether they are nursing courses or non-nursing courses. From the very beginning, from the orientation, that’s part of it, and that’s what makes a GCU nurse stand out … they have these values instilled in them from the very beginning.’’

As a key part of informing instruction based on data, known in the nursing education sector as SPE (Systematic Program Evaluation), Saunders described the typical employer description of a GCU-educated nurse.

 “The GCU nurse is professional in his or her interactions with patients and families,’’ she related. “They have critical-thinking skills, which are really important in terms of nursing. They can make decisions based on their assessment and evaluation of the patient’s situation. ‘’

Attention to detail is critical. For example, a nurse at a hospital can quickly detect subtle changes in patient behavior.

The SPE applies to an individual nurse as well as an entire nursing program, like the one at GCU.

“It is a measure of how the mission and governance tie into the university,’’ Saunders said. “It measures curriculum, faculty and outcomes, including ‘how is the nurse received in the community? Do employers want to hire our graduates?’ ”

Saunders strove to teach nurse educators how to collect and analyze the data for the SPE.

Saunders (right) celebrates graduation with former nursing students.

“You use it every day,’’ she said. “It is a living document; you use it to make changes in your program. If you have employers who come back on the employee survey and say, ‘Well, your graduates didn’t know X, Y, Z,’ you look at the curriculum, and ask, ‘Are we teaching those things?’ Or, they may say, ‘Boy, they are really good at putting in IVs.’ Well, maybe there is an IV certification course before they graduate. The SPE is one of the things I teach faculty and I’ve encouraged faculty to use as they consider making changes in the program. That way, they have the input.’’

The national nursing organizations with which Saunders has been involved represent an alphabet soup. Just to name a few of her major roles: accreditation site chair, nominating committee chair, Board of Review panelist and standards and criteria subcommittee member for the National League for Nursing Accrediting (NLNA) commission, president and executive board member of the National Coalition of Hospital Associated Schools and Colleges of Nursing, and a member of the certified nurse educator (CNE) commission of the NLNA. The latter sets standards and make changes in nursing education, including implementing a national exam.

“As a registered nurse, if you work in a hospital you can take a certification exam in your specialty, like cardiac or neurol or orthopedics, but nursing education did not have a certification to show that it is a specialty field,’’ said Saunders, who was instrumental in preparing and editing the exam that helped establish the nurse educator as a specialty, CNE.

“It really is a specialty,’’ she said. “Not everybody can be a nurse educator. You can be a really good bedside nurse, but maybe you don’t have the qualities to teach student nurses.’’

Mare Fergal, Director of Instruction for CONHCP, worked with Saunders at Arizona College when Saunders was the nursing dean, and predicted that GCU would be a great fit.  

“GCU is the kind of university Rose aspired to come to,’’ said Fergal, who nominated Saunders for the award. “Rose brought decades of experience working with our accrediting bodies and the regulatory agencies.  She was hired because of her expertise … that experience and that lens.’’

In her nomination, Fergal cited Saunders’ assertive approach.

 “She was always a faculty advocate,’’ Fergal said. “She knew that if faculty were well-trained and reimbursed well and had great working conditions, that was going to translate into positive outcomes for the students. Not that she ever took her eye off positive outcomes for the students.’’

 The March of Dimes Nurse of Year Awards are divided among 12 categories, from Charge Nurse to Critical Care, to Surgical to Nursing Leadership and Administration Management, the award for which Saunders is one of three finalists whittled from more than 100 nominees. Six of the awards are sponsored, and GCU sponsors the Nursing Leadership and Administration Management award, which will be presented by Dr. Lisa Smith, Dean of CONHCP, and Dr. Tamara Wisely, Assistant Dean, Graduate Studies.

 “Dr. Rose Saunders has been a leader in nursing education for a number of years,’’ Smith said. “One aspect that stands out about Dr.  Saunders: She is a caring person who has worked diligently to prepare GCU nurse educators across the country.’’

After nearly 50 years in nursing education, including her last role as Associate Dean for Pre-licensure at GCU and now a semi-retired adjunct professor, her nomination represents icing on the cake in her impactful career. Although she did not win the award,  being a top three nominee proved to be a major accomplishment.

“I was very surprised and very humbled,’’ Saunders said. “I feel honored just to be nominated.’’

Contact Theresa Smith at (602) 639-7457 or theresa.smith@gcu.edu.


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