Johns Hopkins School of Nursing bids a spirited and fond farewell truly groundbreaking leader
As the vehicles circled the cobblestone street in a rolling, rollicking, COVID-era sendoff, the mask came off.
What was revealed: This was not simply a celebration of an eight-year term for Dean Patricia M. Davidson, PhD, MEd, RN, FAAN, coming to an end. That was just a masquerade. This was an outpouring of genuine thanks for a near-decade of friendship, leadership, and foresight; of action, not just words, to move the needle on diversity among the school’s staff, faculty, student body, and curriculum; of faculty-student research collaboration and tireless mentoring and encouragement of researchers at all levels; of watching a new wing of the Pinkard Building rise in East Baltimore as a beacon to the community, to prospective students and faculty, and to any who seek to partner with the best minds that nursing has to offer; of common-sense leadership through a deadly pandemic.
The horns that blared that late-March day outside her Fells Point condominium were a noisy testament to Davidson taking her place among the great leaders in Johns Hopkins School of Nursing (JHSON) history even as she jets home to Australia and a new post as vice-chancellor at the University of Wollongong, her alma mater. Wollongong is also half a world closer to the new grandmother’s growing family. “I think for everybody, COVID has made people recognize the importance of family and friends, and it has been very hard when there has not been much global mobility,” she told Australia’s Illawarra Mercury.
Davidson arrived in 2013 on the heels of the legendary Martha N. Hill, who had led the school to its first No. 1 U.S. News & World Report ranking and built the PhD program into a national model. Hill was a tough act to follow. What Davidson accomplished, while all but sealing the No. 1 ranking in concrete, was to literally and figuratively build on her predecessor’s successes, and then forge her own identity, locally and globally. Now it is Davidson who leaves large shoes to fill.
During her tenure, JHSON transitioned to an all-graduate nursing school, unveiling the MSN (Entry into Nursing) Program to chip away at a historic nursing shortage; a range of new graduate programs that have established notable collaborations across the university; exponential growth in numbers and quality of PhD and Doctor of Nursing Practice Programs; and that continued grasp on top national and international rankings while earning unprecedented levels of funding from the National Institutes of Health and other sources.
“For an Australian nurse who was a diploma nurse, from Wollongong Hospital, to end up being the dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, it just goes to show anyone can do anything, if you try and you surround yourself with people who support and enable you,” Davidson told the Australian Nursing & Midwifery Journal.
In Baltimore, Davidson tried to do more than just anything. Everything is actually more her style. Davidson serves as secretary general of the Secretariat of the World Health Organizations Collaborating Centers for Nursing and Midwifery, counsel general of the International Council on Women’s Health Issues, and a past board member of the Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH), recently earning that organization’s Distinguished Leadership Award. She also serves on the Board of Health Care Services for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and is a member of Sigma Theta Tau International’s Institute for Global Healthcare Leadership Advisory Board.
Oh, and in 2016, Davidson was the first nurse to earn the Australian Museum Eureka Prize for Outstanding Mentorship of Young Researchers, one of Australia’s most prestigious scientific awards.
A tireless jet-setter (pre-COVID), Davidson has been a sought-after guest and speaker at international gatherings where she has spread the word not only on her specialties—palliative care and cardiovascular health among women and vulnerable populations in particular—but also the something special that she was developing in East Baltimore. Her evangelism (most recently via Zoom, of course) has set JHSON on a path to an ever greater global standing.
In Australia, they are learning: “Professor Davidson has been described by her Hopkins colleagues as being truly transformative in taking Hopkins Nursing to a higher level,” University of Wollongong Chancellor Jillian Broadbent said in announcing the hiring. “She brings passion, energy, knowledge, and leadership together with strong financial disciplines.”
In Baltimore, we already know it.
“There isn’t enough time to discuss the importance you have had across Johns Hopkins Nursing,” said Deborah Baker, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, senior vice president for nursing for the Johns Hopkins Health System and vice president of nursing and patient care services for Johns Hopkins Hospital, at a farewell Zoom call in March.
I am so thankful for the trust placed in me to lead this exceptional school.”
“I will sorely miss Baltimore and my many friends and will always be a passionate advocate for the university and the values that guide our work,” Davidson says. “I am so thankful for the trust placed in me to lead this exceptional school.”
As for the students she has recruited to JHSON, or mentored once they’ve gotten here, Davidson puts the credit for their success back on them. “The students are phenomenal,” she says. “If you come to Johns Hopkins, you come to do the work. Most importantly, you never do anything alone.”
Davidson will continue to serve through the spring as co-chair of the Johns Hopkins Roadmap 2020 Task Force, a group charged with examining and renewing the goals of the JHU Roadmap on Diversity and Inclusion and deepening the institution’s efforts to advance equity and access. A main reason Wollongong selected her, in addition to higher education leadership experience and depth of knowledge in the health sciences, is her commitment to diversity and inclusion.
“Patricia Davidson has made an indelible impact on our school, local community, and the world,” insists Professor Phyllis Sharps, PhD, MSN, RN, FAAN, associate dean for Community Programs and Initiatives. “She has launched new programs, increased scholarships, and partnerships … but perhaps one of her greatest accomplishments has been her ability to lead with humility and to make others feel welcomed and valued.”
Davidson, who earned a PhD in behavioral science from the University of Newcastle in Australia in addition to her Wollongong degrees, has co-authored more than 500 peer-reviewed journal articles and 29 book chapters. She is a member of Sigma Theta Tau International’s Institute for Global Healthcare Leadership Advisory Board.
Like those circling and honking in Fells Point, she understands the feelings of loss at JHSON. Yet after a year under COVID, Davidson understands what’s far more important: moving forward. “We all stand on the shoulders of giants. With each new dean, the school simply goes from strength to strength. The future for the school is bright.”