Spokane Journal of Business

Cross-discipline academia at WSU Spokane’s nursing school

New nursing dean drawn to interprofessional approach at WSU Spokane

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-—Treva Lind
Joyce Griffin-Sobel started as dean of Washington State University Spokane’s College of Nursing on April 25.

Future nursing education should involve more learning in teams with cross-discipline health care students, working together in patient scenarios and using technology, says the new Spokane-based dean of the Washington State University College of Nursing.

Joyce Griffin-Sobel, 63, started work April 25 at the WSU Spokane campus. She brings more than 25 years of experience in academic nursing, most recently at State University of New York (SUNY) Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, N.Y., as dean and a professor. For WSU, she replaced former dean Patricia Butterfield, who returned to a faculty-and-research role at the nursing college.

Griffin-Sobel says in that her new position, she’ll work to grow a cross-discipline academic model and add more simulation tools for health care instruction. Here, she directs nursing education at WSU Spokane, Vancouver, Tri-Cities, and community college campuses of Walla Walla and Yakima. By comparison, SUNY in Syracuse has a smaller nursing college for health sciences students, she says.

“It wasn’t a comprehensive college like this one,” she adds.

Griffin-Sobel described being drawn to WSU because of the school’s larger size and more opportunities for that cross-discipline learning, or what is called interprofessional education. 

“With the new medical school coming up and a pharmacy school here, and the potential to work with engineering-computer science (in Pullman) that’s directly applicable to the nursing care of the future, all were reasons I was attracted to WSU,” Griffin-Sobel says. “I believe interprofessional education is the future for health care.”  

Examples of simulation tools for nursing instruction include use of computerized mannequins that simulate real-life scenarios, or simulation-lab work enabling students to practice handling a patient whose heart has stopped beating.

She adds, “I really want to grow simulation and interprofessional education. Simulation is the best way to give students the skills while working in an interprofessional team before they hit actual work environments. There are multiple ways of doing simulation; one of the ways is use of actors.” 

Griffin-Sobel says her additional goals for the college are to grow enrollment, particularly undergraduate enrollment, and to increase the college’s research efforts. 

“I think we can play a big role in the health of people in the state by growing enrollment and educating more nurses,” she says.

With changes in the health care industry and greater patient access, it’s crucial to have more nurses and nurse practitioners in the field, particularly the latter professionals in rural communities, she adds. “The only way we’ll reach primary-care goals is by having nurse practitioners being responsible primarily for primary care.”

Since April, she says she’s spent time learning more about the college and meeting people at different campuses. The college has a little more than 1,100 nursing students enrolled in all programs across its five sites. Of that, about 650 students are in undergraduate, master’s, doctoral nursing and health-policy programs at the WSU Health Sciences Spokane site. 

The college’s bachelor of science in nursing program, the largest in the state, draws students through a consortium of WSU, Eastern Washington University, and Whitworth University. 

Griffin-Sobel’s background has included faculty development and adding more technology for instruction. She worked at Hunter College School of Nursing, City University of New York, where she served as acting dean, assistant dean of curriculum and technology, and director of undergraduate programs.

At Hunter, Griffin-Sobel was principal investigator for the New York City Nursing Education Consortium in Technology, a grant-backed effort for faculty development in teaching with technology. For 14 schools of nursing, the consortium developed technologies for instruction including simulation tools, informatics that use data from electronic health records, telehealth to see patients through use of videos or robots, and mobile devices used by patients to monitor health. 

“This consortium over five years really gave faculty development so they could bring those tools into the classroom,” Griffin-Sobel says. “Students are more engaged in their learning. They feel they’re in control of their own learning if they’re able to use these technologies.” 

She adds, “I’m interested in continuing that work. It increases engagement and a learner-centric environment.”

While at SUNY, Griffin-Sobel led the college through two successful accreditations, and she created an education unit in a behavioral health center where graduate students and faculty delivered integrated primary care.

Other previous academic positions included ones at University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey School of Nursing; University of Illinois at Chicago College of Nursing; University of Hawaii at Manoa School of Nursing; and University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. With the U.S. Naval Reserve from 1988 to 1995, she was director of clinical nursing research for the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps and held the rank of lieutenant commander. 

She credits her Navy experience for a leadership focus: seeking ways to remove obstacles so colleagues can do their jobs well. 

She adds, “I thought that was an effective way to be a leader. You try to get as many obstacles out of their way as you can, then they can do their job. I’ve never forgotten that.” 

Griffin-Sobel also has worked during her career as a cancer-care nurse. “I’ve gone back and forth between academia and practice over the years.”

She earned her Ph.D. at New York University in nursing, her master’s degree in nursing as a clinical nurse specialist at Hunter-Bellevue School of Nursing, and her bachelor’s degree in nursing at Herbert H. Lehman College. 

Overall, Griffin-Sobel has been awarded more than $5 million in grant funding. Her research has focused on interprofessional education outcomes and evaluating technology in nursing education.

With her transition to living in Spokane, she says her new Kendall Yards neighborhood has a familiar feature with its walkable design.

“I grew up in New York City and I’m used to walking everywhere,” she says. “It’s a treasure to stroll down the sidewalk, down to work. From what I’ve seen of Spokane, it’s very nice. People are very friendly.”

Treva Lind
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