Called to Be: Health & Environment

Title:Two new schools, one common thread

Author: By Lauren Wolkoff
Date Published: December 1, 2022
two men and a woman stand with each other, smiling
President John J. DeGioia, Roberta Waite, and Christopher J. King / Photo: Phil Humnicky

Editor’s Note: The original article inadvertently omitted the Georgetown University School of Dentistry, which was closed in 1990. The article has since been updated to include this information. 

Georgetown’s commitment to health—to improving the human condition—has taken many forms over the course of the university’s history.

The list is long and the roots are deep, beginning with the establishment of the School of Medicine 171 years ago. In 1903, the university founded the  original School of Nursing, which became the School of Nursing & Health Studies (NHS) in 2000. (The School of Dentistry, which was founded in 1901, was closed in 1990.)

This year, in a bid to reimagine what health sciences can look like both in and out of the classroom, Georgetown took a bold step by sunsetting NHS and establishing two new and distinct schools: the School of Health and the School of Nursing. The move culminated a process of nearly three years of consultation and strategic planning. Both schools officially launched July 1 of this year with a renewed focus on health equity.

“Having two schools launched at the same time really speaks to the extraordinary nature of this moment and the value that Georgetown places on the health sciences,” says Edward B. Healton, M.D., MPH, executive vice president for health sciences at Georgetown University Medical Center. “We now have an unprecedented opportunity to define a new era in health and fully live out our Jesuit values of social justice and health equity.”

With this new direction comes new leadership. Roberta Waite, Ed.D., PMHCNS, R.N., MSN, ANEF, FAAN, a professor of nursing who brings decades of experience working to advance health equity, was announced as dean of the reconceptualized School of Nursing. Christopher J. King, Ph.D., MHSc, FACHE, associate professor and former chair of the department of health systems administration in NHS, was named the inaugural dean of the School of Health.

In announcing the plan for the schools, Georgetown President John J. DeGioia emphasizes the university’s long-standing focus on improving health, calling it “integral to our mission as a Catholic and Jesuit institution.”

“This next phase of our work enables us to deepen our commitment to the largest health care profession—nursing—and develop new interdisciplinary and collaborative opportunities across the domains of health—both within our Medical Center, and also across our Main Campus and Law Center—to emphasize a shared focus on creating healthier communities,” DeGioia says.

From cells to society: a health equity lens

Georgetown’s investment in expanding its health footprint comes at a pivotal time. As COVID-19 nears the end of its third year, the pandemic is a “powerful reminder of the challenges we face and the urgency of envisioning new responses to health education, service, policy, and equity issues,” DeGioia says.

The glaring health inequities revealed by the pandemic underscore the need to reassess how health education and research infrastructure can better serve everyone. Healton says the Medical Center specifically, and the university more broadly, view the two schools as a powerful vehicle to strengthen health from “cells to society”—or from research laboratories out to the community. Both schools aim to develop curious, empathetic learners and lifelong scholars who are committed to creating the conditions for health equity, and taking a systems approach to health.

“This transformation of the health sciences will foster more cross- and interdisciplinary collaboration that, ultimately, will train health professionals who are extremely well equipped to tackle the equity challenges we face,” Healton says.

The founding of the two new schools furthers Georgetown’s work at the intersection of health equity and racial justice through university initiatives such as the Health Justice Alliance, Racial Justice Institute, and the Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities. Healton says he anticipates great opportunities for collaboration in research, scholarship, and training with the School of Medicine, as well as George- town’s clinical partner MedStar Health, along with other schools and programs across the university doing important work in advancing health.

three women stand together
Roberta Waite / Photo by Phil Humnicky

“Nursing is about promoting health and creating a culture of accountability, trust, and respect with communities”

— Roberta Waite, Ed.D., PMHCNS, R.N., MSN, ANEF, FAAN

Both new deans have been on a listening tour, meeting with those around campus to identify possible avenues for collaboration. They have also met with MedStar Health leadership to explore opportunities in training and research.

Stephen R. T. Evans, M.D., MedStar Health’s executive vice president for medical affairs and chief medical officer, says MedStar Health sees tremendous opportunity to leverage the strengths of the School of Health and School of Nursing.

“As an academic health system, we want clinical leaders who are writing the textbooks, and not just reading them— people who are at the cutting edge of learning in creative and innovative ways,” Evans says. “With the two new schools we see enormous potential for collaboration in education, training, and furthering community health.”

Evans also notes that a strengthened partnership between MedStar Health and the university benefits medically underserved communities.

“It’s a much different model to deliver care to a severely diabetic person with heart failure in an underserved area of Washington, D.C., who might have challenges related to transportation, food, or housing insecurity, than the model we would use with patients who do not face those challenges,” he says. “The academic partnership offers us infinite opportunities to further our work in all the communities we serve in a smart, thoughtful, and effective way.”

School of Nursing: where tradition meets innovation

Under Waite’s leadership, the launch of the nursing school reflects Georgetown’s renewed commitment to the largest health care profession—and to strengthening the school’s equity lens. As a psychiatric and mental health clinical specialist, nurse educator, and nurse leader, Waite has dedicated her career to creating healthier communities.

Previously, she worked as the executive director of Drexel University’s Stephen and Sandra Sheller 11th Street Family Health Services, a nurse managed community-based organization operated in partnership with Family Practice & Counseling Network. That experience informs her approach to leadership, in which she hopes to define the brand of the nursing school as an organization that is responsive to the needs of its community.

Waite is ever mindful of the paradox of creating something brand new that is also steeped in tradition, given the 120-year history of nursing education at Georgetown.

“What we need to appreciate is that, while we are a new school of nursing, we are a new school with a long, rich history,” Waite says. “You can’t extricate us from that history because it’s gotten us to where we are now, and people feel strongly connected to different phases of that journey.”

In particular, Waite sees how Georgetown’s Jesuit identity and values continue to define the school. The Jesuit credo of cura personalis, care of the whole person, is something faculty, staff, alumni, and students speak of consistently.

She wants to challenge the School of Nursing to “walk the talk” when it comes to embedding Jesuit values—including reckoning where efforts to be more inclusive, diverse, and equitable have yet to be fully realized.

“Change and growth take place when you’re in uncomfortable places,” Waite says. “No matter what degrees you have or position of power you may hold, it’s important to always be in a learner’s stance.”

Through on-campus and online/distance-learning nursing programs that span the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels, Waite says she is excited to develop and cultivate nursing leaders who are “committed lifelong learners” with a focus on strengthening community, health, and humanization of all, while applying a racial and social justice lens.

“Nursing is about promoting health, and creating a culture of accountability, trust, and respect with communities,” she says. “Providing acute care is hugely important, but we also need to look at fostering well-being for individuals, families, and communities, while appreciating social and structural factors that shape health.”

Advancing the practice of nursing science is also a key goal, and Georgetown’s new Ph.D. in Nursing program with a concentration on health equity and ethics will continue the university’s mission to enhance its research endeavors.

a man stands at a podium between windows
Christopher J. King / Photo by Phil Humnicky

“Georgetown’s focus on health has been, and will continue to be, about more than just health care as a medical construct.”

— Christopher J. King, Ph.D., MHSc, FACHE

Carrie Bowman Dalley, Ph.D., CRNA, serves as vice chair of executive faculty and program director in the Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice Program in the School of Nursing. Having been on faculty for 16 years, she appreciates how the formation of an independent nursing school is challenging her and her colleagues to break down silos and think creatively about how to work across academic units. The new school is creating a platform for heightened unity across nursing specialties, and a sense of shared identity.

“We need a stronger and more unified nursing voice to respond to some of today’s serious needs in health care,” she says. “There are many critical problems, but we all agree the most urgent is the pervasive racial inequity in health outcomes.

“An independent school of nursing allows us to take a highly focused, deep dive into these issues from the nursing perspective.”

While change can be uncomfortable for some, Bowman Dalley says it’s the optimal time for this shift.

“We’re not at the same place we were 20 years ago,” Bowman Dalley says. “We now have more than 900 students in a wide array of degree programs, and we’re eyeing further growth. To do this strategically, we need a strong, nursing-focused infrastructure—and a sharper focus than ever before.”

School of Health: charting a new path

As the new dean of the School of Health, King loves when people ask him about the school’s name, which was intentionally conceived to leave room for evolution. It’s a conversation starter.

“People are intrigued by the name alone,” he says. “I see it as an opportune moment to share our ambition: to be trans- formational, to be interdisciplinary, to be a world-class academic destination for advancing health.”

The new School of Health comprises three departments that were previously a part of NHS: health management and policy (formerly health systems administration), global health (formerly international health), and human science. The departments will continue to function in the same way, and students will carry on with their programs of study without disruption.

Behind the scenes, however, an ambitious effort is underway to establish the new school’s distinct footprint. A design task force—comprising some 20 members from the School of Health and all corners of Georgetown University—has been working since July to shape options for the school’s identity and mission.

This collaborative process provides an opportune moment for those whose work or scholarship touches health to inform the architecture of a brand-new enterprise, according to King.

“We already know that health lives in different spaces across campus. How do we pull it all together in a thoughtful, meaningful way to advance knowledge and provide students with unique educational experiences that are responsive to contemporary times?”

The answers to this question are at the heart of the work of the design task force, which King co-chairs along with David Edelstein, Ph.D., vice dean of faculty in Georgetown College and a professor in the department of government, the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, and the Center for Security Studies.

While Edelstein’s background may seem an unconventional fit for a task force focused on health, he has a deep understanding of Georgetown, including a track record in managing similar complex exercises.

“I am approaching this as a challenge we need to solve together, with all the people at the table who need to be there from a variety of disciplines,” Edelstein says. “This is something I have prioritized doing over the course of my career at Georgetown. As an outsider, I hope I can offer a fresh perspective to help guide this process.”

As one of its first actions, the task force did a comprehensive inventory of where health lives across the Georgetown campus. They found that Georgetown houses over 130 initiatives in the health space: 10 undergraduate programs; 40 graduate degree programs, and 80 centers, institutes, and other initiatives. King says this discovery process was eye-opening.

“This task force has been an incredible vehicle for us to learn about where we might be seeing duplication, and where we see resources or expertise that we weren’t tapping into,” he says. The final definition of the school will be determined once the group submits its final report to DeGioia in Spring of 2023.

While the next chapter has yet to be written, the new school will draw on the best of NHS while also carving out something new, says Jan LaRocque, Ph.D., vice chair of executive faculty at the School of Health, and associate professor in the Department of Human Science.

“Building something new doesn’t mean we need to dismantle what we have completely,” LaRocque says. “To the contrary, we can see what we already have that is working well, see where we might enhance that, and build new streams to complement what we have.”

LaRocque sees an opportunity to position the School of Health as Georgetown’s hub for interdisciplinary collaboration around health.

“Having an independent School of Health makes sense to bring all this work together under one umbrella,” she says.

The new school will also continue and deepen the focus on health equity issues under King’s watch.

“Georgetown’s focus on health has been, and will continue to be, about more than just health care as a medical construct,” King says. “We approach our work understanding that there are populations that have historically been marginalized and disenfranchised. If we can fix the system for those populations, focusing on those who are most in need, everyone will benefit.”

King says the pandemic reminded everyone that we are a global society—what affects one community affects us all. To fix what ails the health care system more broadly, emerging health professionals need a strong equity lens, which the School of Health will help nurture.

Collective strengths

The decision to launch a School of Health and School of Nursing originated with the 2019 announcement of Georgetown’s Health Sciences Strategy Initiative (HSSI) to determine future directions of health sciences at Georgetown.

Through the HSSI work, it was determined that establishing two distinct schools could capitalize on and contribute to Georgetown’s interdisciplinary strengths and better support Georgetown’s ambitions for research and education in nursing and health. A structural planning committee then engaged dozens of faculty and staff from across the Medical Center, main campus, the Law Center, and beyond to imagine a broad range of opportunities for the future of health at Georgetown.

Both Waite and King look forward to potential collaborations with other Georgetown schools to enhance their programming. For example, nursing students may wish to start a business after becoming a nurse practitioner, and Waite envisions a future where they can also earn a master’s in business administration from the McDonough School of Business.

In the School of Health, students and faculty might collaborate with the Law Center around medical-legal aspects of health, or with the McCourt School of Public Policy on health policy issues.

The possibilities for these types of collaboration are virtually limitless.

“One of our guiding principles throughout this process has been that health and health sciences should not just be the province of the Medical Center,” Healton says. “To the contrary, we expect this new direction will have ripple effects across campus that will reshape how we approach the most complex health problems.”



students from the Class of 1851 stand in a group

School of Medicine established


women in nursing uniforms stand in a group

School of Nursing established


Vince Lombardi shakes hands

Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center authorized


a man does a medical procedure while students watch (black and white photo)

Edmund D. Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics established


Nursing school becomes the School of Nursing and Health Studies


three men and a woman stand together

O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law launched


a man in a white coat reaches for a medical tool

Health Justice Alliance established


a photo of the georgetown campus

Global Health Initiative launched, leading to 2022 Global Health Institute. Clinical partnership with MedStar Health renewed and expanded


Health Sciences Strategy Initiative begun to identify future directions of health sciences at Georgetown


School of Nursing and School of Health launched

More Stories

a woman in a yellow skirt paints a green abstract painting

How Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center uses art for cura personalis A typical day in the studio finds Aida Murad, the current artist-in-residence exhibitor at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center,…

Medical students lead efforts to integrate environmental health into curriculum Ruba Omiera / Courtesy of Ruba Omeira For Ruba Omeira (M’24), a single grain of rice illustrates the staggering consequences…

As the world continues to steadily emerge (and gather the pieces, as it were) from the numerous stages of the global pandemic, we would be remiss to go without acknowledging…