Recognizing an increased need for research to address the challenges of today’s nurses, renowned nurse researcher and Gator Nurse alumna, Linda Aiken, (BSN 1964, MN 1966) PhD, FAAN, FRCN, RN, the Claire M. Fagin Leadership Professor of Nursing and professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, announced her intention to advance her current professorship within the College of Nursing to create the Linda Harman Aiken Chair. Aiken’s additional planned gift supports her initial commitment of $1 million in 2016 to endow the Linda Harman Aiken Professorship to support excellence in nursing research at the UF College of Nursing.
A time like no other
Aiken’s gift comes at a time when the nursing profession faces a work environment like no other time in history. Most recently due to the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses experience heightened amounts of stress due to extreme workloads, which can lead to burnout.
Aiken, who conducts research on the health care workforce and quality of health care in the U.S. and globally, is the author of more than 400 scientific papers and has recently investigated the phenomenon behind why the nation’s health care infrastructure has struggled during this medical emergency. According to her research, understaffing of hospitals and nursing homes sets the stage for the conditions under which nurses struggle to adequately care for patients and experience high rates of nurse burnout both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Perhaps surprising to many, the country does not have a national nurse shortage,” Aiken said. “We do, however, have an acute and very troubling shortage of nursing care in hospitals, nursing homes and schools, which is largely due to employers not creating enough budgeted positions and acceptable working conditions for professional nurses. Nurses are not leaving health care in massive numbers —they are changing employers and looking for opportunities to provide better care to patients.”
Without adequate care, patient outcomes suffer as a consequence. Aiken’s research revealed that high levels of turnover and chronic stress in nurses posed a danger to patient safety, since health care systems with this environment struggle to deliver consistent, quality care to their patients. This presents a serious threat to public health, especially if it is allowed to persist.
This phenomenon is not new. According to Aiken, nearly half of the country’s nurses experienced some form of burnout, and the majority reported unsafe working conditions in hospitals prior to the pandemic. To ensure adequate levels of nurse staffing in health care, public policies addressing nurse burnout are needed. The basis for such policies and evidence-based solutions can be identified and evaluated by nurse researchers in leadership roles, such as the Linda Harman Aiken Chair.
Anna M. McDaniel, PhD, RN, FAAN, is the College of Nursing’s dean and has held the Linda Harman Aiken Professorship since it was created in 2016. Her title now reflects the endowed chair status.
“We are incredibly grateful for Dr. Linda Aiken’s generosity, her support of the college as a proud alumna and her desire to make lasting change in the nursing profession,” McDaniel said. “This gift is a testament to her commitment to shaping the next generation of nurse researchers, and we hope to live up to her exceptional example.”
Crediting the beginning of her three-decade-long career to the mentorship and guidance she received at UF under the leadership of founding dean Dorothy M. Smith in the 1960s, Aiken hopes her gift will help UF nurse researchers continue to lead the way in developing innovative care practices, impacting public policy for the greater good.
With nursing research now seen as a source of innovation, Aiken also hopes that whomever holds the College of Nursing chair will also be a key player in spearheading university-wide excellence. She believes the chair will contribute to expand nursing outcomes and policy research, strengthening the position of the University of Florida as a health care leader.
“Endowed chairs help make great universities by providing resources in perpetuity for the recruitment and retention of stellar faculty, supporting pathbreaking research, and affecting national rankings that help recruit the best and brightest students,” Aiken said. “The College of Nursing has launched many national nurse leaders and clinicians who have changed the face of nursing. I envision that the Linda Harman Aiken Chair will continue that great tradition.”