《China Daily》 report our Dean Marcia
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Marcia Petrini and her students from the Nursing School of Wuhan University visit a patient at the Wuhan Zhongnan Hospital. Jin Siliu / For China Daily

My China Dream | Marcia Petrini

A nursing specialist from the US wants to raise the status of nurses in Chinese hospitals, and she has been working toward this goal for more than two decades. Xu Wei and Li Bo report from Wuhan.

Helping nurses in Chinese hospitals discover the value of their jobs is one of Marcia Petrini's ambitions, and she has dedicated much effort toward this since her first trip to China in 1988.

Petrini, 71, became the dean of the Nursing School of Wuhan University in 2003 when the newly built school was recruiting worldwide.

She knew the job was not going to be easy as her previous stint as a consultant to hospitals and nursing schools in China made her aware of the role of nurses in Chinese hospitals.

"I knew basically nurses here are undervalued and they have the potential to really contribute a lot more to the healing of the patients," she says

"In most hospitals the nurses' most important duty was to administer IV drips.

"I knew I would meet a lot of resistance on the one hand. On the other, there was a strong administration behind the Wuhan University who wanted change."

A native of Ohio, the United States, Petrini graduated with a bachelor of science degree from the Catholic University of America in 1963. She got her PhD in nursing from the New York State University in 1977.

She was professor at Thiel College Nursing Department in Pennsylvania before she came to China through Project HOPE in 1988.

Project HOPE is a US medical program that provides medical training and health education, as well as conducting humanitarian assistance programs in more than 35 countries.

As part of the program, Petrini helped coach nurses and hospital administrators at several universities in Xi'an, Beijing and Hangzhou.

"When I was teaching at the Chinese Nurse Association, some people traveled six days to come to the workshop because the transport those days wasn't so good," she says.

"To me that was impressive because it showed they really wanted to learn."

That's part of the reason Petrini decided to take the job at Wuhan University in 2003.

"I am more than willing to help when people really want something and they have demonstrated a commitment. I believe my job is a facilitator."

The school of nursing was founded on a nursing department of Wuhan University. In the past, the curriculum only focused on science and nursing skills.

Petrini looks for "an integrated kind of curriculum where students are required to take liberal art courses". Liberal art courses are important because it helps develop and expand the mind, she says.

"One of the challenges of nursing is that you are dealing with people and they come from many different backgrounds," she says. "Suppose you are taking care of a farmer, if you know something about farming, it will certainly help you understand why he got the disease."

She recalls her initial effort to reform the curriculum in the nursing school as "close to impossible", as it met with strong resistance from some faculties whose courses were cut from the general syllabus.

"I totally understand that. People get paid for teaching courses and it cut their funds," she says. "But I am not here for a popularity contest."

Meanwhile, she also hired former nurses, rather than doctors, as teachers for the nursing students. "It is nursing, so we need to focus on nursing."

Her job also includes helping nursing majors recognize the value of nursing.

"If the students experience positive feedback from patients, they will have pride in what they are doing and know people recognize what they are doing is valuable," she says.

Liu Yanqun, a PhD at the nursing school, says she was very frustrated when she was transferred to the nursing major in her sophomore year at the university in 2003.

"Most nurses graduate from technical schools or vocational colleges. Why should I learn nursing at a university," she had asked. Her mentality was typical of most students at that time when the school was first established.

Liu gradually changed her mind as the school introduced nursing education in other countries. "We never realized nursing could be so different and a nurse's job could command such respect," she says.

Looking back, Petrini believes the changes over the years at the school have been impressive.

"We have totally revised the undergraduate curriculum, changed the way teaching is done and set up a master's and doctor's program on nursing. But my expectation is that we can be better than we are," she says.

Meanwhile, employment for the graduates reflects the success of reform.

"Each student has at least one job offer. Some graduates have progressed so rapidly in their jobs that they have been promoted to educational roles in the hospitals," she says.

"They got the jobs because of their nursing education. They got the advancement because of their ability to think."

Petrini still laments that most hospitals in China are still not seeing the true value of nurses, and "even nurses are not seeing the value of their jobs", she says.

For Liu Yanqun, the message was driven home once more when she took a trip to the United States in 2009 and saw the difference in the role of nurses over there.

"It surprised me how proud the nurses were of their jobs. They felt they were respected and they were well paid," she says, whereas in Chinese hospitals, nurses are called "the legs of doctors", fit only to run errands.

Petrini is optimistic that change will come, bit by bit.

"There are several hospitals I have worked with. Once the nurses see the values of their roles, there will be big changes in the hospitals. It takes time," she says.

Contact the writers through xuwei@chinadaily.com.cn.

(China Daily 03/19/2013 page18)

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