May 04, 2023
Dean Marie T. Nolan is proud of past and future of The Conway School of Nursing (Catholic University/Patrick G. Ryan)

The nation marks National Nurses Week starting May 6, and there is no better place to celebrate than The Catholic University of America. The University’s Conway School of Nursing, under the leadership of Dean Marie T. Nolan, has received national accolades for its innovative programs.

U.S. News & World Report ranked the University’s online master’s program in nursing No. 5 in the country. In addition, the publication named the program’s online family nurse practitioner master's program No. 13 in the U.S.

Nolan answered a series of questions about how University nursing students find the connections and education that lead to impactful careers.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What is the hallmark of a CatholicU nursing student or graduate?

We believe that the foundation for a happy life in nursing is the joy that one experiences when making a profound difference in the lives of those entrusted to our care. The hallmark of the Conway School of Nursing graduate of The Catholic University of America is that he or she is prepared to care for the whole person: mind, body, and spirit. Our graduates see their calling to care as part of the healing ministry of Jesus Christ.

Catholic University student Imani Lipscomb has thrived in the nursing program. (Catholic University/Patrick G. Ryan)

How will the new Conway School of Nursing building opening in 2024 enhance the experience of students?

With the expanded space for classrooms, learning labs and simulation education and access to new teaching technologies, there are greater opportunities for interdisciplinary education across the campus. The new building provides greater space for these collaborations. Finally, our new building offers collaborative learning activities with our clinical partners in the hospitals and community and with our partnering schools of nursing in Washington, D.C. 

University President Dr. Peter Kilpatrick recently said how excited he was about a metaverse hospital coming to the nursing program. What can you tell us about it and how did this come about?

During the spring semester this year, several of our faculty members have worked on various projects in immersive learning using advanced technologies. One such project involved virtually teaching students how to assess and prioritize care and treatment across multiple hospitalized patients at one time. The scenario more closely resembles the experience of a nurse in the hospital caring for patients in multiple different rooms.  

Drs. David Want, Sandra O’Brien, and Marye Kellermann are faculty members who are both experienced nurse educators and nurse practitioners in active practice. Kim Walsh, director of the baccalaureate program is a graduate prepared nurse who has an active practice as an RN working in collaboration with nurse practitioners, physicians, and other team members in the hospital setting.

Together, they worked with an internationally-known technology consulting firm to develop the simulated hospital experience with multiple patients with multiple conditions requiring the student to virtually “walk” into multiple rooms and assess the patients and gather important data from the electronic medical record.  

At various points in the development, volunteer Conway School of Nursing students engaged in the immersive learning simulations and provided feedback, which led to further refinement of the program. The first phase of this cutting-edge work will be completed by the end of May. 

How do CatholicU students and graduates help make the world-renowned hospitals in the Washington metropolitan area what they are?

Many hospitals and health systems in the D.C. region have benefited from the leadership of graduates of the Conway School of Nursing of The Catholic University of America. 

The past chief nursing officer of both Inova Fairfax Hospital and the University of Virginia Medical Center, Mary Dixon is an alumna.

Susan Eckert, senior vice president and chief nursing officer of Medstar Health, the health system that includes the Washington Hospital Center and Medstar Georgetown University Hospital, is also an alumna.

Our own Associate Dean for the baccalaureate program, Eileen Caulfield, a retired colonel in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps, served in several leadership positions in the former Walter Reed Army Hospital.

Our graduates are leaders in schools of Nursing, health systems, and the military around the world.

Dean Nolan (third from right) gathers with students from The Conway School of Nursing (Catholic University/Patrick G. Ryan)

 What do you think makes the profession so special and how rewarding is it to train the next generation?

It is an honor and a privilege to care for patients and families at some of their most vulnerable times in life. As nurses, we are in a unique position to be present to those entrusted to our care. 

We are bearers of hope and healing to the suffering in every phase of life. It is a special honor to prepare the next generation of nurses. And, for me, it is the greatest honor of my career to be Dean of the Conway School of Nursing working together with a nursing faculty that is the best I have ever encountered.