UCSF Welcomes Nursing School Dean David Vlahov

By Lisa Cisneros

David Vlahov, PhD, RN

David Vlahov, PhD, RN

David Vlahov, PhD, RN, an experienced epidemiologist who specializes in working with community partners to improve urban health, joins the UCSF leadership team today as the first male dean of the School of Nursing.

Vlahov comes to UCSF with a successful track record as an expert in epidemiology, infectious diseases, substance abuse, and mental health. 

He has served as the senior vice president of research and director of the Center for Urban Epidemiologic Studies at the New York Academy of Medicine, as a professor of clinical epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health, and as adjunct professor in epidemiology at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Vlahov also brings a unique global perspective as founder of the International Society for Urban Health, serving as its first president, and works with the World Health Organization's Urban Health Center in Kobe, Japan. 

Vlahov, who bid farewells to his East Coast colleagues and closed up shop in New York, took time out to earlier this week to answer a few questions before arriving in San Francisco on Wednesday.

Q: You have worked in Japan, which is struggling with the triple disaster of an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear plant crisis. What would you advise public health officials to deal with the myriad health issues? What is your sense of how the Japanese will be able to recover from the tragedy?

A: What has impressed me over the years is the resilience and cohesiveness I sensed in Japan. I am confident that they will bounce back. In terms of public health, there is a broad range of issues and they have prepared well to address them. If I were to identify one area where I might offer input, it is the importance of recognizing and responding to mental health in the general population - usually attention to [post-traumatic stress disorder] PTSD and depression is focused on those directly affected, the victims, the rescuers, their families, but in a disaster of this magnitude, everyone is affected. The sense of resilience and cohesiveness already there will be an important resource in their recovery.

Q: As the nation marks the first year of health care reform, how should the nursing profession prepare for the next wave of changes that occur in 2014? What are the critical areas of health care reform you think need to be included that were not part of the original law?

A: The health reform will bring many more people into health care, and advanced practices nurses will play an important role in providing care to those entering the system.

The bill provides money for both advanced practice and general nurse education. One of the most exciting things for nurses is that the law creates a grant program for innovative safety net programs, one of which is nurse-managed health clinics.

Before nurse practitioners had to jerry-rig private funding and do all sorts of maneuvers simply to stay afloat. Now they can access payments and are able to provide care to all who choose to have nurse practitioners provide primary care.

The reform is also about community care, outside of the acute care setting - reducing the number of people "falling through the cracks" of the previous health care system. It's about supporting efforts for health care in communities – school-based clinics, nurse-managed clinics, supporting patients at home, and transitional care,  -- all of these programs are about care in the community, and nurses are exquisitely prepared to take on these roles.

Q: I hear you're a hugger. How do you intend to immerse yourself in the culture and campus life at UCSF?

A: Total immersion. I look forward to meeting faculty, staff, students, alumni not just from the School of Nursing but also from the other schools. Expect to find me in the student lounge and classrooms, and once I get settled, hosting dinners with faculty and students.

Q: Do you plan to continue the tradition of giving a state of the school address as established by former dean Kathy Dracup, RN, DNSc, FNP, FAAN, who returned to her role as a professor?

A: Kathy Dracup was a fabulous dean. She did a great job continuing and expanding the school's reputation as a leading institution. I will continue many traditions she established. I firmly believe that a dean's address on the state of the school is an important way for all of us to take stock of where we've been and where we are going.

Q: The goal of nurturing diversity continues to be a priority of UCSF leaders. Why do you think the University should try to be more inclusive of the many forms of diversity and what would you do differently to achieve greater diversity among faculty, staff and students in the nursing school?

A: If diversity is viewed simply as a rainbow, the experience is transient and the gold remains mythical. When diversity is internalized with commitment, the experience is enduring and the value is priceless. When we understand and embrace diversity, we attract and provide for the best.

Q: Your work in Harlem will help inform the school's ongoing partnership with the Glide Foundation in San Francisco's Tenderloin. What lessons did you learn that can help the school continue its longstanding relationship with community partners at the nurse-run Glide clinic?

A: At the risk of sounding banal, the key words are relationships and trust. We can have various views, special sensitivities, and definite differences. At the core, recognition that expertise comes from a variety of experiences, when combined, provides a synergy for success in meeting shared goals.

Q: For the many students who may not be considering a career in academia, what key words of advice do you have for them on how to become a dean at one of the most prestigious health centers in the US?

A: Think about how you want to make a difference in the world. When done well, clinical practice makes a big difference in people's lives. When done well, preparing people to become nurses makes a big difference in the students and the other people's lives. When done well, creating new knowledge that helps nurses prepare the next generation makes a big difference in people's lives. When done well, creating an environment of teaching, research and service can make all of this happen. Each role is important and valued.

Over time, you discover what is a "best match" and you aim for it. I'm thrilled to be here as it allows me to bring all I have learned to work with some of the best nurses in the world in a great institution that has interprofessional excellence. For me, this is the best of all worlds.

Photo by Elisabeth Fall/fallfoto.com

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