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.'"
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.
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, oncology.
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."
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."