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Using her Muse: Dean brings artistic touch to nursing leadership style

by Dawn Brazell
Public Relations

Hanging in Gail Stuart's office is an elegant art piece of an Asian woman.

She laughingly calls it her muse, and it brings back fond memories of an overseas trip she took. More than that it embodies visually her goals of instilling compassion and self-efficacy in the students and faculty who traverse the halls of MUSC's College of Nursing where she has served as dean for the past decade.

"I love seeing minds blossom," she said of the journey she witnesses of the students, staff and faculty in the college. "It's very much a visual thing where you see the flower opening up, particularly in nursing. You see people come in here and they just bloom. They take in information. They have insights they never had before. They have new ways of reaching out to people."

artworkDr. Gail Stuart draws inspiration from art, such as this image that hangs in her office.

Stuart, Ph.D., R.N., has seen many positive changes. The college boasts a 92 percent graduation rate for 2010-11 and a 99 percent pass rate on the registered nurse licensing examination in 2011. It has doubled student enrollment and gone from having no National Institutes of Health ranking for research to being ranked 30th in the country. It also has added to its online nursing programs.

Though all are welcomed changes, they are not what stand out to Stuart.

"I'm proudest of the emotional climate in this college. That's probably not what you'd expect a dean to say. I'm proudest of the fact that in the MUSC Excellence survey, 97 to 100 percent of the faculty and the staff said they made the right choice in coming to work at the College of Nursing. If you have a healthy emotional climate and respectful culture, you can truly do great things."

Many times organizations do good things, but they foster a competitive, cutthroat climate that is not healthy.

"Ultimately, that's not going to win the day. We are a team. The more stars that shine, the greater the light that's given out. It's not about individuals. It's about all of us growing to be the best that we can be."

Her relational style of management that blends the art and science of nursing is one factor that has made Stuart stand out in her role as dean. She is being recognized as part of the MUSC's National Women's History Month program in March celebrating "Women's Education – Women's Empowerment."

Stuart has had many offers during her career to move on to other institutions. She has stayed because her continuity has allowed her to develop good working relationships and gain momentum to effect change. "I'm someone who likes to grow and develop things. I like to see the possibilities. I think MUSC is uniquely positioned to grow."

Jersey Girl
Born in Jersey City, New Jersey, Stuart lived in a fourth-floor apartment with no elevator. "I don't think I ever saw a riding lawn mower. I was a real city girl. I went to the Village on weekends. I was very much brought up in the New York City environment."

Not many fields were open to women as she was considering college.

"I have a confession. I type with two fingers because when I was growing up you took typing if you wanted to be a secretary. I knew I wanted a college degree, so I went to Georgetown University, which was a fabulous experience."

Nursing turned out to be the perfect match for her. She loved the holistic view and ability to interact with patients. After receiving her Bachelor of Science degree in nursing from Georgetown University, she went on to get her master's in psychiatric nursing from the University of Maryland and her doctorate in behavioral sciences from Johns Hopkins University, School of Hygiene and Public Health.

Stuart said she realized she was drawn to psychiatric nursing while working in the emergency room at George Washington University Hospital. "What I noticed is that every time someone came in with an overdose or suicide attempt of any kind, the staff always used to triage those to me. I started thinking maybe there was a reason why they don't want to do it, and I liked working with those patients."

Stuart would go on to make major contributions to psychiatric mental health nursing. She is finishing the 10th edition of the textbook, "Principles and Practice of Psychiatric Nursing," that has been honored with four Book of the Year Awards from the American Journal of Nursing and has been translated into six languages.

The book goes beyond the science of nursing to capture the artistry involved as well. Stuart said she carefully chose patient and nurse stories. It also includes the work of batik artist, Mary Edna Fraser.

Dr. Gail StuartDr. Gail Stuart holds her latest psychiatric nursing textbook.

"What I most enjoy about writing the book is the sense of generativity — of giving back. It's a legacy. Clearly, it won't be forever, but it's been 30 some odd years and there are a lot of people who have been touched by the content. It's more than just numbers and facts. It really tries to humanize the whole mental health and substance use field. I think people relate to that. People love stories, and it makes it more personal."

Risk Taker
Though she now has one grandchild, whom she loves spending time with, Stuart said she has much she wants to accomplish before retiring. She's excited about the renovation of the college that will be starting in the fall.

She also likes that three of the six deans at MUSC are female. There was a period when she was the only female dean. "It makes the dialogue more balanced and gives more perspective. It enriches MUSC overall with the kinds of discussions and analysis that can be achieved when you have a mix of people – racial, ethnic, gender – however you want to look at it. Like minds always think the same way, and you go down the same road."

There's still work that needs to be done to mentor women in leadership roles. "Women have not yet won the day. There still are challenges. There are a lot of subtle and unexpressed biases. I don't think women have been totally unleashed as far as the potential that they can really bring into the workplace and the workforce."

Her advice to women is to ignore some of the negative images that can surround working women and find creative ways to balance family and career work. There's an art in learning to be true to oneself, she said.

"Don't second-guess feelings important to you and let the outside voices override your own voice. Experiment. I think that's very important. Experiment with childcare arrangements. Experiment with careers. I've told people that I've had more different jobs without leaving Charleston since I was here. I was over at psychiatry. I was at the center for health care research. Sometimes certain things work at one point in time and then they don't work at another. When a window of opportunity opens, go for it. Take the risk."

Pragmatic to the core, Stuart exudes resiliency.

"You have to adapt and change as your situation changes. This shouldn't be frightening. It shouldn't be a bad thing. It should be experimental. I tell my faculty there is no failure here. If we try something that we all thought was a good idea and it doesn't work out, we are smarter than we were the day before. It's like a rule-out diagnosis. I think that's how women have to feel. I think oftentimes women feel more constrained and held back and less able to take risks."

She also believes in being proactive. Stuart said she's not the type to wring her hands or whine.

Dr. Gail StuartDr. Gail Stuart just returned from Liberia where she is working with the Atlanta-based Carter Center on an initiative to create a sustainable mental health system. She developed a "train-the-trainer" program for registered nurses to address the area's dire need for mental health professionals.

"I really don't like whining at all. I don't like worrying about things you can't change. I don't find that productive. There are plenty of things to worry about that you can change — concentrate on those. I tend to be optimistic and persevering. If I believe in something, I pursue it. If you close the front door, I'm very likely to go to the back door and see if that's open."

The college is on a very positive trajectory, and she wants to continue to see an increase in students and in the research agenda. Her goal is for the college to be one of the best state-supported schools in the country — in the top tier of its peer group. More importantly, she wants its graduates
to have mastered the two traits that in her book are essential to success: Compassion and self-efficacy. With those two qualities, they can handle any situation.

"Sometimes I see the work of our students and I think 'you make me so happy for the future of nursing.' I know that's the kind of nurse I want at the bedside, in the community and in the boardroom. It gives you a sense of longevity and a sense of hope in the future. Sure times are tough and sure there are huge challenges ahead, but I am proud that here in the college, we are graduating dedicated women and men whom I would want to be my nurse."



Friday, March 16, 2012

The Catalyst Online is published weekly by the MUSC Office of Public Relations for the faculty, employees and students of the Medical University of South Carolina. The Catalyst Online editor, Kim Draughn, can be reached at 792-4107 or by email, Editorial copy can be submitted to The Catalyst Online and to The Catalyst in print by fax, 792-6723, or by email to To place an ad in The Catalyst hardcopy, call Island Publications at 849-1778, ext. 201.