Q & A with Dr. Shannon, senior associate dean for academic affairs

09/07/16  Portland, Ore.

Sarah Shannon, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N. , senior associate dean for academic affairs with a faculty appointment as professor in the OHSU School of Nursing, sat down with us and answered some key questions about her priorities in the coming months.

Dr. ShannonDr. Shannon began her work on June 1. She comes to us from the University of Washington where she was a faculty member in the Department of Biobehavioral Nursing & Health Systems in the School of Nursing and adjunct in the Department of Bioethics & Humanities in the School of Medicine. She was chief of the ethics consult service for Northwest Hospital and Medical Center and an ethics consultant for University of Washington Medical Center.

Her research focus is on improving communication between health care teams and patients and their families around ethically challenging issues, specifically end-of-life decision-making in the ICU setting, error disclosure, and, most recently, interprofessional conflict. Dr. Shannon has taught clinical and professional ethics for 20 years and has been an investigator on multiple NIH and AHRQ-funded grants focused on improving communication between health care teams and patients and their families. Dr. Shannon is a frequent local and national speaker on ethics and served on five institutional ethics committees in the Puget Sound region over the past 20 years.      

As Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs she serves as the Chief Academic Officer with responsibility for the development, implementation and evaluation of outstanding programs of teaching and learning.

Thank you for speaking to the SoN community about your plans in the coming months.

SON:  Could you share your top two or three priorities for the coming year?

1.      Listen and learn. I want to develop deep understanding of the tremendous assets of the OHSU SON. For example, Oregon leads the nation because of the collaboration among nursing programs to create a common "OCNE" curriculum. The OHSU SON is creating a new model of community health through the I-CAN model, which is putting nursing students on the ground to help solve the problems that interfere with achieving health. OHSU is a leader in interprofessional education nationally. Finally, I am so impressed with how the SON's advanced practice nurse programs are serving the State of Oregon by producing nurse midwives, family nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists and other primary care providers and nurse leaders, educators and scientists.   

2.      Support and strengthen assets. I want to help ensure that nurses, and nursing education, will continue to be a part of the solutions to a healthier future. Programs already in place, like I-CAN, are examples of these assets. They address health for our homeless and uninsured neighbors, people like the barista you get your morning latte from and your child's daycare worker, and access to services in rural communities. As someone who had the privilege of growing up in a small town, I want to make sure we are creating a work force that supports the health of people living in rural areas or those who are disadvantaged.

3.      Look for opportunities. I hope to find ways to support our outstanding faculty and exceptional students to move from what we know is achievable to what we only dreamed might be possible.  My goal is to support making the future a reality. A big question I'd like to ask is if we could do anything, what would we want to do? First step is finding the dream that we can make happen. Maybe not in one year, but with work and lots of imagining, in 5-10 years. 

SON: What has been done so far to support your goals?

People have been incredibly generous with their time by tutoring me in all things "OHSU" and "Oregon"! I am thrilled by the openness to ideas and change that I have experienced in my first three months at OHSU. Everyone is open to new ideas and thoughtful change. I have the pleasure to work with an amazingly effective executive leadership team and an inspiring and dedicated faculty leadership team. I feel very lucky. 

SON:  What challenges do you foresee?

Higher education (particularly around financing) is in a time of rapid change;healthcare is in a time of rapid change;nursing education is in a time of change that has called out our core values.

Dramatic change like this can make even the most brave among us look for a steady handhold. One challenge I see for myself – and all of nursing education – is to manage the uncertainty and discomfort that accompanies disruption so that we can maximize opportunities. 

One area of rapid change is financing. Public institutions of higher education no longer receive the same levels of subsidy from their respective States.This is partly in response to the recent economic downturn, when many states cinched their belts, transferring costs to students/parents through increased tuition. But this disproportionately affected less privileged students. Educational institutions, like OHSU, that are in partnership with the public are tremendous instruments for social justice by helping address poverty through the power of education. 

SON: As a nationally renowned ethicist how does this specific viewpoint shape the way you do your work and how do you think it will shape your work here at OHSU?

I think it shapes my leadership style in that I've been trained to listen. I've learned that if I speak too quickly I'm usually wrong. First, you have to listen but then you have to not be afraid to make a decision. If you're too hesitant, by the time you are ready to intervene the moment is lost. I'm willing to be part of the conversation and listen to people's value statements to get to the passion that is at the core of our work.

SON: Who has inspired you in your life and why?

Many people of course, but two in particular are in my thoughts daily as I have started this new position.The first is my aunt, Dr. Anna M. Shannon. Anna is a nationally-known leader in nursing education, a beloved former dean of Montana State University, and a respected pioneer in nursing leadership.The mentorship award, which is given annually at the Western Institute of Nursing spring meeting, is named in her honor. Her six nieces and nephews all adored "Aunt Anna". She invested her energy and attention in each of us by guiding us to think about who we were and who we wanted to become. She didn't hesitate to let us know when we weren't measuring up to our own goals and values. Anna has provided me with her gift of mentorship throughout my life, including as I have followed her into nursing education leadership. Anna continues to live in Bozeman, Montana and I visit her as often as possible to soak up her wisdom and share our mutual love of The Big Sky State.

When I started my Ph.D. program, I asked Dr. Rheba deTornyay to be my mentor.  She said yes, and as the saying goes, it was the start of a beautiful friendship. Rheba and I shared a passion for nursing, ethics and nursing education. After finishing my Ph.D., we became friends and fellow "troublemakers". Rheba delighted in learning and the pedagogy of learning. We spent most Friday evenings together exuberantly talking about curriculum, teaching strategies, the future of nursing education, and other fascinating (to us) topics. Once a man in the restaurant where we were eating came over to our table to inquire what we could possibly be talking about so animatedly! His puzzled expression at our answer sent us into peals of laughter. Rheba died nearly three years ago and is missed by many as she was a generous and ready mentor. I miss her dearly.    

SON:  How can the faculty, staff and the SON community support you?

My door is open and I hope people will stop by or make appointments to tell me of the activities, initiatives, successes and challenges they believe I should know about. I am on a steep learning curve but happy to wear crampons to work. 

SON:  Anything else you'd like to cover?

An unexpected pleasure in my new position is how much I am enjoying Portland!  When I moved from Seattle, I was focused on leaving my hometown for 32 years and bringing a chapter of my life to closure. Once I began to get settled here, I discovered what a fun and weird city this is. I love it!  I enjoy every moment I get to explore Portland.  

Fun Questions

Skittles or M&Ms?    M&Ms!  Dark chocolate is a food group for me.  

Swim or hike?   Hike then swim in a mountain lake.

Ice cream or cake?    Cake (no frosting) and gelato.