Marianne Baernholdt, PhD, MPH, RN, FAAN—a leading expert in quality and safety, and a global health scholar—returned to the school in August 2022
to take the dean's reins, but she has been a leader since her earliest nursing days.
As a 19-year-old student in her native Copenhagen, Denmark, Baernholdt was tapped to lead for the first time, she told the School in her first address. "Dannerhuset," or Danner House, built as a women's shelter in the late 1800s by the Countess Danner, was threatened with demolition by the late 1970s. Baernholdt was one of a small handful of women who guided a group of about 300 activists to save the shelter through advocacy and fundraising. Thanks to their efforts, Dannerhuset remains in operation today, more than 40 years later, and a symbol of Danish feminism.
Baernholdt—a nurse scientist for 20 years, an educator and mentor for 30, and a nurse for nearly 40—sat down to talk about everything from being an immigrant and making a case for nursing graduate studies to the national nursing faculty shortage and her global lens.
Q: You were on the UVA nursing faculty from 2005 to 2014. What brought you back?
MB: Because it’s UVA and because of the people! Many of the faces at the School are beloved to me—we enjoy a lot of longevity among faculty and staff—and the variety and strength of our research and our across-Grounds collaborations are exciting, too. And it’s also a fact that our students are second-to-none. It was the opportunity of a lifetime.
And the welcome I’ve received has been wonderful. [Former dean] Pam Cipriano and Dorrie Fontaine were both online for President Ryan’s announcement that I would be the School’s seventh dean, and, right after that, I received an email from [dean emerita] Jeanette Lancaster, who’d hired me on as a faculty member in 2005.
"My global lens is not one I can turn off; it's always with me, and that's a good thing."Dean Marianne Baernholdt
With those I’ve known, and the new people I’ve met, there has already, in these early days, been a great deal of good dialogue, and many informative conversations. It really feels great to be back.
There’s also a sense of new energy and synchronicity with the health system. UVA Health is more a part of the University and feels more proximate and connected to the school, its faculty, staff, and students. I report to both UVA Provost Ian Baucomb and Dr. Craig Kent, UVA Health’s executive vice president for health affairs, a structure that feels both right and important. The opportunity to be part of decisions that influence healthcare delivery and working conditions for healthcare workers was a powerful driver to return, as it is in line with my life’s work. For a nursing dean, the role really is the total package.
"We need to make it easier for nurses to consider graduate study in the first place—financially, scheduling-, and course-wise—to really show them the benefits an advanced nursing degree brings so they can see the undeniable value in furthering their education: how it will change their perspectives, professional trajectories, their pocketbooks—and their patients' lives."Dean Marianne Baernholdt
Q. What are the challenges facing nurses and nursing education?
MB: COVID gave the world a better sense of what nurses do and has given us a platform to speak up in ways, perhaps, that we’ve never done before. Of course, COVID also gave us a look at what happens when nurses don’t get what they need and the many ways our systems need to improve. My research focuses on how to ensure our frontline workers are safe, supported, and whole, and have what they need to care, thrive, and stay.
Nursing education has some big challenges in front of it, in addition to the overall shortage of bedside providers. Just one percent of nurses ever earn a PhD in nursing and become academics and scientists. That means there are far too few people to teach the students who are applying in droves, especially to our undergraduate programs, which every year sees record-breaking interest.
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing tells us that about 80,000 qualified applicants a year are turned away from undergraduate nursing programs across the U.S. because there are too few faculty members and not enough space to teach them. That is a steep hill to climb, but it starts with attracting more nurses to programs like the PhD and Doctor of Nursing Practice programs. Too few of us do that.
We also need to make it easier for nurses to consider graduate study in the first place—financially, scheduling-, and course-wise—to really show them the benefits an advanced nursing degree brings so they can see the undeniable value in furthering their education: how it will change their perspectives, professional trajectories, their pocketbooks—and their patients’ lives.
read ON MY BOOKSHELF, the reading habits and preferences of Dean Baernholdt
Q. How do you plan to address the nursing shortage?
MB: COVID drove many nurses to quit, but the exodus was happening long before the pandemic. Many nurses felt overworked and underpaid, exposed to high-acuity situations without adequate protection and supplies, and continuously asked to work in high-stress environments. But in my own and others’ research, it’s abundantly clear that if the well-being of nurses and other clinicians is high and prioritized, patients’ outcomes—and hospitals’ bottom lines—are much stronger. So we all have a stake in keeping nurses feeling whole and supported.
UVA has made many positive changes to this end, such as improvements in pay. But it’s a matter of continuous improvement here and around the world. The will to improve is there.
read FROM THE DEAN, Baernholdt's message after the tragic Nov. 13 shooting at UVA
Addressing the shortage requires a roadmap for our school. To that end, we’ve begun a strategic planning process that pulls from UVA Health’s “One Future Together” plan, builds on President Ryan’s “great and good” model, and is also deeply informed by our own IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, and Excellence Achievement) initiative. The vision we create will set our path forward together.
Nursing is much the same across the world, despite differences in resources and cultures. We nurses all care for patients, their families, and communities across the lifespan. Many of the challenges we face are the same, too, so we must learn from each other.Dean Marianne Baernholdt
Q. How will your expertise in global health influence your deanship?
MB: My global lens is not one I can turn off; It’s always with me, and that’s a good thing. I have traveled with countless students all over the world and met nurses from so many continents and countries, experiences that inform who I am and what I do. Being an immigrant myself also colors how I connect with others: It really is about finding common ground. So many of the problems we face begin at exactly that point.
At this moment, it’s exciting to me that global programs are returning after a hiatus during the pandemic. Last summer, 14 of our nursing students studied at sites in Cyprus, Honduras, Italy, Nicaragua, Rwanda, and Spain, traveling with faculty members who have long-term partnerships in those countries and are doing research there. Nothing can replace those kinds of experiences and perspectives. Our curriculum, even though it’s packed with skill-building, science, and real-world learning, intentionally makes room for such experiences. That is as it should be. Our approach is distinctive and an asset.
I am often reminded that nursing is much the same across the world, despite differences in resources and cultures. We nurses all care for patients, their families, and communities across the lifespan. Many of the challenges we face are the same, too, so we must learn from each other.
Q. Can you tell us a little about your family?
MB: My husband, who grew up in California and Denmark, is a retired physician. We have three grown children who grew up in the United States: a daughter, who lives in Oregon and is a nurse; and two sons, who both live in Denmark.
We have two dogs: Zero and Taz. They are Basenjis, a very independent breed, which is another word for untrainable. Sometimes that shows. They are inveterate Zoom bombers.
Q. What’s your favorite thing, or one of them, about being back at UVA and in Charlottesville?
MB: Besides Bodo’s and Gearharts Chocolates? The good restaurants! Eating aside, I love seeing the mountains every day as I drive to and from work. And walking around Grounds.