Fairfield Now - Winter 2007
Robin Bennett Kanarek '96:
Ensuring Nursing Excellence
By Nina M. Riccio
|Grateful for support she received, impressed by the dynamism of the School of Nursing dean, and energized by her work on its Advisory Board, Robin Bennett Kanarek's challenge will ensure that the Learning Resource Center will continue to thrive.|
She was accepted to Skidmore on the basis on her artwork, but Robin Bennett Kanarek '96 never got to take a single art course while there. Instead, she fell in love with nursing, "and it was all or nothing back then," she says. "I was told I had to choose one or the other." She earned her associate's degree in nursing, then decided to take a break from school and go to work.
"That decision not to finish my BSN was always one of my biggest regrets," says Kanarek, who worked as a diabetes educator at Stamford Hospital. Not one to waste time with regrets, she decided to do something about it, enrolling in the School of Nursing's second-degree program at Fairfield just as the youngest of her two children began school, and finally earning that longed-for BSN in 1996.
"Oh, how I dreaded taking that core with all the statistics, Western Civilization, religion, and calculus!" she admits. "But Dr. Ben Fine (of the College of Arts and Sciences) was such an excellent teacher and had an ability to make the math so relevant to every day life. And Drs. Sheila Grossman and Dee Lippman were instrumental in bringing out the best in me and in all their nursing students. They knew what we were capable of doing. In the end, the core helped me tremendously because it challenged me."
All that has made for a very committed alumna, and after former University President Aloysius Kelley, S.J., hired Dr. Jeanne Novotny as dean of the School of Nursing in 2001, he insisted the two meet. "She absolutely had such energy and vitality and such a passion for nursing that it was impossible not to be taken under her spell," Kanarek remembers. "She's a true leader, and quickly brought the School to the level it should be."
So strong is Kanarek's belief in the direction of the School that she has recently put forth a challenge grant of $350,000 towards equipping the newly-constructed Learning Resource Center, built last year through the generosity and successful fundraising of the Board. "With the Kanarek Family Foundation gift, we'll be able to engage in more faculty development as well as purchase simulation equipment, a medication and EKG machine, intravenous pumps, laptops, operating room equipment - in short, everything we need to make these clinical spaces as authentic as possible," says Dr. Suzanne Campbell, associate professor and director of the Resource Center.
The Learning Resource Center is a simulation laboratory; students can work on a "patient", a computerized robot programmed to have symptoms specific to an illness, while being assessed by both their peers and a professor through a closed circuit television in another room. Varying scenarios can also be created - the "patient" can be belligerent, for example, refuse to be treated by a female, or speak a foreign language. The result: a center where students can learn in a risk-free, hands-on environment. Using simulation-based teaching will also allow professors to integrate nursing skills, critical thinking, and communication into their curriculum.
Giving eye drops properly is a technique that needs to be learned, both for patient comfort and so as not to waste medicine.
Under the watchful eye of Suzanne Hines, adjunct professor, Alan Guffanti gives it a try.
"A simulation laboratory is essential if the School of Nursing is going to keep from remaining stagnant," says Nancy Lynch, P'95, chair of the School's Advisory Board. "Today's students are so smart and savvy, and they shop around to find the school with the best teaching facilities. We simply could not attract the kind of students we want without this." She points out that Kanarek's family has a history of giving back to the community. "It's not just her heart that's in this gift, it's that of her whole family," adds Lynch.
Kanarek herself suppresses a smile when asked to compare the nursing education of today's students with her own, just over 10 years ago. "When I graduated, I had no ICU experience, no ER experience," she admits. "Today's students are not only more prepared, they have more of an understanding of the pressure they'll be under. They learn to react while they're being monitored. What they practice here will have an effect on their patients well into the future."
Kanarek has been a member of the School's Advisory Board since its inception in 2005, a position she finds exhilarating. "I've been on boards before where the purpose is just to make sure the job gets done," she says. "This is different. Our meetings are absolutely energetic. Everyone has an idea of where things should go, and every idea is received with excitement." Kanarek is quick to point out that the Board has done as much for her as she has for it; in her last semester as a student, her son David was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia, a disease that would ultimately take his life at age 15. "For me, being on the Board represents a lot of healing," she admits.
"I had no expectations when I joined. But the leadership and the brainstorming that goes on is so exciting that I look forward to each meeting. I've been able to do the things I've wanted to do to honor David's memory. It's been a very healing experience."
The trauma of David's death in 1999 was so great that the family welcomed the chance to move to London for a few years when an opportunity arose with Joe Kanarek's job. There, Kanarek volunteered with the Teenage Cancer Trust (TCT), an organization designed specifically to address the needs of teens with cancer. Challenges for charities are different in the UK, Kanarek explains. "They don't have the same tradition of charity work and of fundraising that we do in the U.S.," she says. "But one thing they do very well is acknowledge that a teen with cancer has very different needs than an adult with cancer. I realized, through my experience with David and my volunteering with the TCT, the importance of listening to the patient. As professionals, we often don't take the time to listen; we need to learn that there is a true art to listening. That professional doesn't have to be a psychiatrist; a doctor or nurse who can listen as well as answer medical questions and talk about death can be just as helpful."
Incorporating counseling skills into the education of healthcare professionals is something she thinks is lacking, and an area she would like to see emphasized more. Perhaps it's not surprising that her 17-year-old daughter, Sarah, who went through her own grief process at the loss of her only sibling, is considering a major in psychology when in college.
"End-of-life care and counseling for grieving families is something Robin is clearly passionate about," says Dr. Novotny. "She has been such a strong supporter of the School, and brings to the Board not only her background as a nurse, but her experience as someone who has gone through a personal tragedy and seen what nurses can do to be effective. Her compassion and her intelligence make her a unique person with a unique perspective to offer, and her commitment and generosity will impact nursing education and care beyond our time here."
Editor's Note: In honor of the Kanarek Family Foundation gift, the Learning Resource Center will be formally named the Fairfield University School of Nursing Robin Kanarek Learning Resource Center at a special ceremony in June 2008.