An Interim Nursing Dean’s Story

Dr. Susan LaRocco
Interim Dean of Nursing
The Catholic University of America (Washington, D.C.)



After retiring from a dean position, I realized that I missed the challenge of leading a school of nursing. But I was enjoying the summer off and settling into a leisurely routine. Maybe retirement was for me. Knowing The Registry’s success in placing interim administrators, I submitted my credentials and thought perhaps someday I will get a call. Much to my surprise, it came within weeks of starting the process of being a Registry Member.

From multiple Zoom interviews, I learned that there were morale issues within the nursing school. It was apparent that I needed to Zoom with the nursing faculty to learn their perspective. In a virtual session with the faculty, one of the faculty stated, “We don’t want a new dean; we love our Dean!” Another bluntly asked, “Have you already been hired?” Another faculty member challenged as to how I would be able to manage things when I did not know their systems. I was glad that Kevin Matthews was on the call. His response was that nursing schools are alike more than they are different; I had never thought of it that way. At my request, I Zoomed with the Dean who was stepping down from the position. From this conversation, we determined that we could work together: she would be the Dean Emerita for the rest of the year and the administration would name me the Interim Executive Dean, beginning on November 1st. Starting in November meant that I had to hit the ground running, there would be no easing into this position.

As the assignment began, there was a suspicion that I would be a puppet of the administration, or worse, a spy. Thus, I knew that my first task was to build trust with my new colleagues. Philosophically, the Dean Emerita and I were nicely aligned. Our mutual focus on faculty development and empowerment and student success made her a strong ally. Even with that, it was a delicate balance between being in charge and deferring to the systems that she had established. In addition, several key administrative positions had been left vacant for several months, including the role responsible for placing students into clinical groups and hiring the clinical adjunct faculty. Faculty trust in my commitment and ability was enhanced when I became directly involved and worked closely with a new staff member hired into this position. That person rose to the challenge of getting students into clinical placements by early January.

As this assignment nears an end, I have had a chance to reflect on what helped to make it a success for me personally and for the School of Nursing and the University. In the long run, success in this placement resulted from the basics – clear communication both within the school and with university administration, transparency, advocacy for the staff and faculty, and a shared goal of providing an excellent education for the students. When the Vice Provost said, “I understand the School of Nursing better since you started than I had previously,” I knew that I would be leaving a lasting positive impact on the relationship between the University and the School of Nursing.

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