Prescribing a New Nursing Doctrine

Courtney Lyder’s career as a nurse eschews any stereotypes one might hold about the profession. Already the second youngest member inducted into the American Academy of Nursing, he became the first African American male to hold the position of the dean of UCLA’s School of Nursing in 2008.

As dean, he has worked to redefine and re-imagine the image of nurses from doctor’s subordinates to individuals who conduct clinical research, advocate for patients and hold leadership positions at health care organizations.

Diversity Executive spoke with Lyder about the increasingly diverse and aging population, ways to promote diversity throughout the profession and more. The following are edited excerpts from the interview.

What is your process of “reimagining and redefining” the field of nursing as dean of UCLA’s School of Nursing?
At the UCLA School of Nursing, we are working hard to redefine both the role and image of nursing through research that is helping to build the scientific foundation for breakthroughs in disease prevention, pain management, curing heart disease and HIV/AIDS, as well as improving quality of life. Our faculty members — nurses, basic biological scientists, biobehaviorists, engineers and physicians — are conducting research in oncology, neuroscience, physiology and genetics.

We rank number four in NIH funding, with nearly $14 million in annual research grants. In the classroom our pre-licensure students are engaged in investigative research, and our advanced practice nursing students are taking courses with third-year medical students in a groundbreaking effort to transcend traditional nurse-doctor barriers.

What difficulties have you faced as a male in a female-dominated industry?
I have actually found people to be quite accepting of me as a nurse. What I think surprises people more is that nurses do research.

What kinds of diversity issues have you encountered in the workplace and how have you dealt with them?
Early in my research career, I realized that few studies focused on minority populations. I was one of the first researchers to address the question of whether interventions used for Latino and African American elders in pressure ulcer prevention and care should be the same as Caucasians or whether a more culturally sensitive approach could improve outcomes. I found that when health care providers are attuned to the patient’s culture, they are better able to identify nuances of how disease is manifested and then they can ask different questions based on their better understanding.

What public perceptions about nursing do you hope to change?
There is a media image that portrays nurses as order takers, naughty or dark characters plagued by moral and ethical imbalance. As someone who interacts with thousands of professional nurses each year, I see a very different kind of nurse. Today’s nurses possess in-depth health care knowledge, have amazing tools and technologies at their fingertips, play a key role in the patient care process, help drive national health policy, and are leading the way in many dimensions of critically important clinical research. They are transforming health care in ways that will have an immeasurable impact on the nation’s health.

What aspect of diversity do you think we should be talking about that we aren’t already?
As our population shifts to include more minorities, and as the number of seniors and centenarians doubles and triples, nurses must be better prepared to communicate in more languages and to better understand a range of cultural and aging issues.

Without diversity among our ranks, it’s almost impossible to do that. Minorities tend to have less access to health care and higher rates of illness when compared to traditionally white areas. Therefore, nursing schools want to recruit individuals who have an awareness of cultural differences and who desire to practice holistic medicine in underrepresented populations. In order to achieve these goals, however, nursing programs need higher numbers of minorities.

What do you enjoy most about your role as dean?
In my role as dean of one of the top nursing schools in the country, I can encourage more people of color as well as more males to pursue graduate education and leadership positions in nursing. If I can inspire the next generation of students of color to see that someone like them can be a dean at one of the premier schools of nursing, what a wonderful platform.

Jeffrey Cattel is an editorial intern at Diversity Executive magazine. He can be reached at