Roberta Waite
Category: Community Health, Faculty, Health Magazine

Title:New nursing dean seeks partnerships, leans into challenges

Author: By Camille Scarborough
Date Published: June 20, 2022

On July 1, Dr. Roberta Waite will begin service as dean of the newly reconceptualized and standalone Georgetown University School of Nursing—one that continues a nearly 120-year history of nursing education at Georgetown and will grow from the current School of Nursing & Health Studies. The School of Nursing & Health Studies will sunset with the July 1 launch of the School of Nursing and the School of Health, to be led by Dr. Christopher J. King.

A fellow of the American Academy of Nursing and the Academy of Nurse Education of the National League for Nursing, Waite joins Georgetown from Drexel University, where she is a professor of nursing and executive director of the university’s Stephen and Sandra Sheller 11th Street Family Health Services—a nurse-managed, community-based organization that serves diverse and vulnerable populations and public housing residents.

What attracted you to the Georgetown role?

I’m at a point in my career where I am ready for a multifaceted challenge and the opportunity to have a greater impact on the nursing profession. Georgetown’s stated values align with mine, and I was heartened by faculty’s focus with an emphasis on health equity and social justice. I was really excited to learn more.

I felt welcomed into the community even as a candidate. The search team really wanted to get to know me, to find out what inspires me. When I walked onto campus for the first time, I felt this sense of belonging. It really touched my soulspace in a way I wasn’t expecting. I’m a native of Philly, including my college years. I’ve never strayed far from the area. But this position is worth the uprooting.

With the separation of the schools, there is an immense opportunity to develop something special for the nursing profession, which is quite timely given the vast health-related issues our country is confronting. Preparing nurses across roles to envision what’s needed to optimize health and realize what’s needed to create a just society is critical. Leveraging Georgetown’s ethos to propel this work for our students is foundational.

What do you want the Georgetown community to know about you?

Relationships are everything to me. I love getting to know people and having them get to know me. I also like to work with a mission and engaging everyone to be part of it. I think the mission of Georgetown’s School of Nursing is important for not just the students and faculty, but also the staff and alumni. Engaging alumni to be part of our growth and evolution is vital. Also, our partners at MedStar play a pivotal role with endeavors of the School of Nursing. Together, we can have a positive impact on the university community and the D.C. area.

Do you have a vision for the student experience at Georgetown?

I want students to take a healthy dose of Vitamin C—that is, Vitamin Courage. To me courage means thinking differently, leaning into discomfort. I know we have phenomenal students at Georgetown, but I don’t want them to be complacent. I want them to expand on their gifts, to experience places and ideas that make them look at things in a new way.

There are so many ways that nurses can impact health. They can heal but also improve and optimize well-being. In academia we have so many resources. We need to recognize that many of the people seeking health care are not thriving because they don’t have resources, with intentional disinvestment. Also, present-day structural systems infuse and sustain barriers inhibiting their ability to thrive giving rise to social influencers of health and pervasive health inequities. Students need to obtain structural competency in order to recognize those challenges first-hand, even if it makes them uncomfortable. In fact, they should be uncomfortable—that is how you learn. I want the School of Nursing to be a learning space, individually and collectively. To get there, students, staff, and faculty may need to lean into vulnerability.

What are you looking forward to doing in your first few months on the Hilltop?

I’m excited to get to know more people at the School of Nursing as well as my fellow deans and our partners at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. What drives them? What inspires them? What are their aspirations? I also want to engage with the key leaders in the community so I can set up partnerships that will be mutually beneficial. I’ll ask what they need and consider what we can offer.

“It’s important to me to get a sense of all the voices, especially those that have been intentionally disenfranchised. I know there are groups who feel invisible.”

It’s important to me to get a sense of all the voices, especially those that have been intentionally disenfranchised. I know there are groups who feel invisible. I will attend some events related to racial justice in D.C. even before I settle into the Hilltop. I want the community to know about Georgetown nursing so that we can create a pipeline for students who might not see themselves in that role. We need to mentor those who don’t understand the coursework or application process because the world needs more nurses and more diversity in nursing. To get there, we must be proactive and intentional with our actions and resources.

What would surprise readers about you?

I’m a mom to two fur babies: Imani and Layla, two mixed breed dogs I got from a shelter. I’ve always been a dog lover— and in fact, there was a time that I wanted to be a vet.

I believe that people should work hard and play hard, so I love to travel every chance I can get. I love exploring new locations, especially family vacations.

But most weekends you will find me in my garden. My husband focuses on the vegetables, and I focus on the flowers. It’s so fulfilling to create something beautiful.

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