Cabrini University. Photo:
Cabrini University. Photo:

Cabrini nursing offers holistic engagement, leadership training for the next generation of nurses

The program is still accepting applications for its inaugural Fall semester.


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When Jennifer Specht saw the opening at Cabrini University for someone willing to create and lead a new nursing program at the school, she knew it was a perfect match.

Specht, now the chair of a nursing program of her own creation at the school, referred back to the story of Mother Cabrini before jumping at the opportunity.

Born in Lombardy when it was under Austrian control, Cabrini became a nun in 1877 and emigrated to the U.S. ten years later on a mission. She became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1909. Her efforts for the rest of her life there helping underserved populations of immigrants made her the first U.S. citizen ever canonized in 1946.

Cabrini University was founded in 1957 in her name.

“Their mission and their values just screamed to me that this is such a nice blend of the art and science of nursing,” said Specht.

The new nursing program takes to heart Mother Cabrini’s life work of serving vulnerable communities to push health equity across the board. That extends beyond just the immigrant populations that Cabrini served, and also includes the disabled and LGBTQ populations in addition to those experiencing homelessness and drug addiction.

Its curriculum will have students early on get what Specht called “holistic engagement experiences” with communities of vulnerable populations.

Understanding patients 

In other words, part of freshman and sophomore years in the program will center around getting students exposed to these communities so they can better understand how to treat them when encountered in a clinical setting.

Those experiences could range from volunteering to help at a homeless shelter or contributing to events around the holidays at a drug rehab center.

“Have them have these lived experiences around these populations just so they can gain an appreciation of the challenges that the populations experience,” said Specht.

When thinking back on her own career, which spans 20-plus years as a critical care nurse and nursing school administrator, Specht said much of what she learned in regards to health treatment disparities among vulnerable communities came from following her mom around — who was an obstetric (OB) nurse — and on-the-job experience. 

“They didn’t get the prenatal care, they were hesitant to come and seek care, they didn’t have transportation,” she said. “And it just seemed unfair to me that these patients weren’t getting the care they needed because they didn’t experience the same luxuries.” 

She couldn’t recall the disparities ever being brought up in school.

The new nursing program at Cabrini will introduce them first before students engage in more technical study in junior and senior years.

Developing the next leaders in nursing

Another major part of Specht’s curriculum is encouraging leadership among the next generation of nurses.

Coronavirus has no doubt complicated the rolling-out process of Cabrini’s new nursing program, but has also put nurses front and center as the leaders of humanity’s fight against the novel virus.

“It’s in your face on steroids: ‘This is what nurses do. This is how broad their scope is, this is how intense their scope is,” said Specht. “It’s like heart, body, soul.”

The nurses that enter the world in the aftermath of coronavirus will have an opportunity more than any previous generation of graduates to have a voice and seat at the medical powerbroker table.

Leadership among nurses is something personally “huge” for Specht. In an updated version of the National League of Nursing’s (NLN) Core Competencies for Nurse Educators, she wrote the chapter on leadership. 

“We are at the bedside, we are the ones making the decisions, we understand how this works. We should be with the doctors, with the CEOs, on the boards, making sure that we’re advocating for our profession, but more importantly our patients,” said Specht.

Cabrini also houses the Nerney Leadership Institute to add another layer of leadership development outside of just the efforts of the program.

“Empowering students, even at the undergraduate level, is one of the main tenants,” said Spect. “You have a voice.”

As of today, Specht is in the same boat as every other college administrator, hoping to be able to return in the Fall, but developing virtual plans if necessary. 

Applications for the Fall nursing program are still open.


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