The Domino Effect

Nursing dean and professor reaches patients by teaching excellence to future nurses

Appeared in: ADVANCE for Nursing

By: Maricela Cruz

As dean and professor at Samuel Merritt College (SMC) School of Nursing in
Oakland, Audrey Berman, PhD, RN, AOCN, strives to teach students the same philosophy
she lives by: Do the right thing and do the thing right. As a certified oncology
nurse, her impact extends far beyond SMC. She is known as "the resource" among
colleagues, friends and family members who have a cancer diagnosis.

In addition to sharing her oncology expertise, Berman co-authored the 8th
edition of the renowned Kozier & Erb's Fundamentals of Nursing: Concepts, Process,
and Practice. Since 2004, she has served as dean and professor of SMC, preparing
future nurses for a career in a health system she believes needs to be much safer.

"We know we can't teach the students everything so we teach them how to do
clinical reasoning. I tell them they must always have rationales for their actions
and that it is never acceptable to say you did something because someone else told
you," Berman said. "My motto is: 'If it doesn't make sense, don't do it.'"

Passion Through Experience

Growing up a daughter of a physician, Berman knew she wanted to work in the
health sciences.

"While exploring the different options, I discovered some of the fields I was
interested in really had no patient contact, so I became interested in nursing,"
she recalled.

Berman earned her BSN from the University of California, San Francisco, in 1973
and applied at Samuel Merritt Hospital (SMH) and Highland Hospital in Oakland,
both of which had very few openings for a new nurse on a mission. Her journey to
discovering her nursing niche began when she accepted the first job she was offered:
the night shift at SMH on the floor where, she was told, they sent people who were
going to die.

"I originally wanted ICU, but one had to work in med/surg first. By the time I
was eligible to transfer, I had become completely committed to oncology," Berman
said. "It has been an honor to work with so many oncology nurses. They are a
special breed — their care is high-tech and high-touch and they must know a
phenomenal amount of information. They have to love tubes, devices, lab values and
people, and must trust evidence-based practice and intuition," she elaborated.
"Oncology nurses really are on the forefront of making what is best for the
patient work."

By 1975, after 2 years on the unit, her new-found passion for oncology helped
her recognize the need for further knowledge. She went back to UCSF for her MSN.
She began teaching courses for SMC's nursing diploma program in 1977. Berman was
simultaneously teaching and working at SMC as a nursing resource lab manager and
coordinator of academic computing when she decided to take the final step up the
educational ladder.

"I went on a trip to the Soviet Union back in the late '70s; [the trip] was
run by a doctorally prepared oncology nurse from Florida and she told me, 'You
have to go back to school and get your PhD.' She would continue to push me until
I finally decided to do that," Berman recalled. She obtained her PhD from UCSF
in oncology nursing in 1993.

Leadership & Authorship

In 2001, Berman moved to Sacramento to establish SMC's first remote campus.
Three years later she was asked to return to the Oakland campus to serve as interim
dean, which led to her current position as dean of nursing.

"One of the reasons I went into education and stay in full-time academia is
because by preparing hundreds of students, I am having way more of an impact on
the quality of patient care," she enthused.

To become a familiar face on campus, Berman guest lectures to every group of
pre-licensure nursing students in their first semester. Among her favorite topics
are legal issues in nursing, ethics, teaching/learning strategies, and naturally,

Berman's vast knowledge and expertise led her to the opportunity to work on
Fundamentals of Nursing. "It was an honor to have been involved in the project,
let alone having the authorship given to me," she said. "Getting my work in
print is another way for me to educate new nurses and have an impact on patients."

Future of Nursing

Berman would like SMC to continue to be known as a school that is creative,
nimble and clinically superior. One of her main priorities is educating nurses
how to prevent mistakes.

"Nationwide we are seeing the need to make sure patient care is much safer than
it has been. Many professional researchers are investigating why healthcare has
become so hazardous, and what can be done to make it safer," she explained.
"From my end, we make sure to observe students and verify they are delivering
care correctly. I hope to see a time where families can be certain their loved
one can go into a hospital and be given safe care."

As dean of nursing, Berman said it gives her great pleasure to know SMC's
nursing programs are solid. "If I left my current position, I would be very
content in knowing we are bringing in the best qualified students, giving them
the proper education and graduating individuals who [will] provide excellent
patient care."


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