The career of the new dean at the School of Nursing-Camden was shaped by military service and her desire to work toward social justice and equity.
In high school, Donna Nickitas participated in a program assisting nurses in a busy New York hospital. She shadowed members of the profession who cared for the most at-risk and vulnerable patients in the community.
“Those nurses sincerely treated these individuals with dignity and with respect – that always stayed with me,” Nickitas said.
The experience inspired her to become the first in her family to go to college and enter the health care field.
“It is not enough to know what nurses do, but also to know what nurses know," she said. "In other words, nurses must see and care for the whole person. The sum of nursing knowledge involves more than the parts of providing direct physical, emotional and spiritual care. It means seeing the whole person and making sure all individuals have access to quality care – caring that is governed by the New Jersey State Nurse Practice act as well as other state and federal standards, laws and regulations."
After receiving her bachelor’s degree, Nickitas wanted to see the world outside of New York, so she joined the U.S. Air Force Nurse Corps. But, instead of traveling the globe, she was assigned to Rapid City, South Dakota.
However, her time in the military provided an opportunity to fine-tune her advocacy and leadership skills. She eventually climbed the ranks from second lieutenant to major.
“Somehow I survived the brutal winters and learned about becoming a servant leader, an astute team member and a fierce advocate for my patients who were often miles from home, family and friends,” she said. “My service with the U.S. Air Force Nurse Corps taught me that I was never alone and all I had to do is ask when I needed help. Now, that is a lesson worth remembering.”
At Rutgers, she wants to help nursing students in Camden understand the intersection of policy, economics, legislation and health care and how they can use their voice as professional nurses to help influence regulations and standards that shape their practice.
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