What I learned about being a nurse educator

A nursing professor demonstrating suturing to nursing students in scrubs.

Donna Fabry, pre-licensure programs coordinator  and clinical associate professor, has received several accolades for excellence in teaching. Here, she is helping students to hone their suturing skills.

As a nursing student, my professors were my role models. Their passion and drive for the profession is nothing less than inspiring. Now, while working as a registered nurse, I’m also enrolled in a family nurse practitioner program at Upstate Medical University. As part of my Nurse as an Educator course, I had the pleasure of interviewing a past professor: Clinical Associate Professor Donna Fabry.

When I graduated from UB SON, I knew I wanted to become a professor for future nurses later in my career. But what I realized after my interview with Dr. Fabry is that every nurse is a nurse educator. Some people say that anyone is replaceable in a profession, but what Dr. Fabry has done for her students is far from replicable in the nursing world. She has mastered the art of teaching, and helped build a program that continues to produce some of the best nurses in Western New York.

Here are the highlights from our conversation.

Hatem: What are the qualities most needed to be successful as an academic nurse educator?

Fabry: “It’s most helpful that a clinical nurse educator had some hands-on experience in a hospital or other health care setting when teaching the undergraduate students. Faculty also has to be empathetic and understand that the students have little knowledge about being a nurse when first starting nursing school, and will not know things that a seasoned nurse thinks are obvious. Having a sense of humor helps and being able to explain concepts in multiple ways. The profession and research in medicine and nursing are constantly changing, so it is very important that the content is updated frequently and the latest evidence is being taught.”

As a novice, what was the best advice you were given? What advice would you give to a novice academic nurse educator?

“One thing I learned as a nursing student was intellectual humility. I had a wonderful professor who told me that the most dangerous student or novice nurse is the one that is afraid to say he/she does not know something. If you do not have humility, you can cause a patient harm. I show a video in class of a new nurse who gives 10 mL of insulin rather than 10 units because she did not want to admit she did not know how to administer the insulin for fear of looking dumb. When I started as a novice educator I had no problem saying to the students, ‘I have no idea; I have to look it up.’ For some reason, students think clinical faculty know everything about every disease or drug. Many of us were in specialized areas and actually have to relearn and review some information before teaching it.”

What do you think is respectable for a student or educator to do when they face something they are unfamiliar with?

“I think it is really important to be able to say you do not know the information and take the time to look it up, learn about it and go back with the answer. Giving a physician or anyone on the health care team information that is not validated or checked could be life-threatening for the patient.”

Have you encountered any situations where academic integrity and/or social justice have been questioned?

“Yes, I had an experience one year where some students brought an issue to some of the faculty that a student was bullying some of the other students. It was a tough situation that needed to be addressed directly and transparently, but most people do not like confrontation. Sometimes it is not the faculty or the nurse manager that is going to fix the situation. Often, it needs to be fixed by the players involved. We also have a Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) Committee that is led by one of our faculty members, Dr. Amy Hequembourg. It’s a very active committee that is bringing in a diverse array of speakers and other educational materials for the School of Nursing.”

Describe your role as an academic nurse educator in facilitating students in learning and meeting learning outcomes.

“We have program outcomes and objectives for each course in which that criteria needs to be met. That is outlined in the syllabi. We base what we teach on the outcomes in the syllabi. My job is to use the objectives and disseminate the information using different teaching methods because not all students learn the same way. Some students learn better in clinical or lab settings; others learn better by lecture or case studies. So we always find a way to make sure the students are meeting the outcomes we have set for them.”

What are your organization’s expectations of you in regards to your role in teaching, scholarship and maintaining your clinical expertise and practice?

“I started as a clinical instructor. To be promoted to the next rank, each clinical faculty member has to demonstrate certain criteria in clinical expertise and practice, teaching and curriculum development, scholarship, and professional and community service. Faculty are held to a high standard and I think that is a good thing.”  

Is there anything since the pandemic that has changed your teaching?

“Our main focus is to keep our students safe by making sure they have proper PPE and specific education on COVID-19. We developed educational modules for the students to complete and incorporated COVID-19 into the classroom and lab settings. I also put together a presentation for the senior nursing students on Promoting Health Care Workforce Well-being during COVID-19.”

About Dante Hatem, BS '19

Dante Hatem speaking at commencement.

Dante Hatem, BS ‘19, is now two years into his career as a registered nurse. As a new graduate, he started in the Medical Intensive Care Unit at Upstate University Hospital, which soon turned into the hospital’s COVID-19 ICU less than a year later. He now work as a travel ICU nurse, where he is placed at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester. He is also enrolled part-time as a family nurse practitioner student at Upstate Medical University. 


Published March 24, 2021