Nursing Professor Helping Build Up BSN Program at Saint Leo University
Meet Dr. Deb Peterson, an associate nursing professor, chair of the BSN program, and the newest member of the College of Health Professions at Saint Leo University.
Dr. Deb Peterson recalls getting a nurse kit as a child. She even told her cousin she wanted to grow up to be a nurse someday. Little did she know she would not only work as a nurse but would spend many years educating future clinicians as a nursing professor.
Born in North Carolina, she spent most of her life in Illinois. She and her husband now reside in Orlando, FL. They have two adult children and their spouses, along with a five-pound poodle, Ripley, named after lead character Ellen Ripley from the Alien film series. In her spare time, Peterson frequents the Walt Disney World theme parks and enjoys cruising. She also spends time with her adult children and mother.
She earned her bachelor’s in nursing (BSN) from Bradley University, her master’s in nursing (MSN) from Lewis University, and a Ph.D. in education from Capella University. She is a certified academic nurse educator (CNE) through the National League for Nursing and is certified in basic life support and advanced cardiac life support through the American Heart Association.
Peterson has worked in several healthcare settings, including hospitals where she spent time in the intensive care unit (ICU). She also worked for a group of cardiologists.
“I was a nurse clinician and assisted the cardiologists in hospitals with various procedures,” Peterson explains.
And what led her to explore a career educating nurses?
“As I worked in the ICU with new nurses and nursing students, I realized I liked the teaching aspect of the work.”
She spent 20 years teaching nursing at the University of St. Francis in Joliet, IL where she was a full professor with tenure. During the last eight years of her stint there, she served as associate dean of undergraduate nursing.
“In our BSN and RN programs there, I taught medical surgical courses,” she says. “I also taught leadership and management, pain management, and client education. At the master’s level, I taught courses in nursing education to prepare future nurse educators.”
Following her longtime duty at St. Francis, she worked as an educator at Orlando Health South Lake Hospital.
“I worked closely with new RN residents for the first 12 weeks of their residency program. My job was to ensure they were getting the skills and education they needed to succeed as a nurse.”
Her areas of focus in academic research have centered around cardiovascular health and nursing education. She recently had an article accepted by the Journal of Christian Research.
Peterson knew she wanted to return to a traditional academic setting at some point. This search led to the discovery of an open position for a nursing professor and department chair role in Saint Leo University’s College of Health Professions.
“I had been in Florida for four years at that point and was looking for an educator role in academia, something that is not easy to come by these days,” she says. “I saw Saint Leo University was hiring, so I decided to apply. Having worked for St. Francis, a Franciscan institution which has many of the same core values as Saint Leo, it seemed like it could be a good fit.”
In September of 2021, she joined Saint Leo University as an associate professor of nursing and chair of the BS in nursing degree program. Since starting with Saint Leo, she has initially taught SLU 125: Choosing Wellness. The first core nursing classes will be offered beginning in the fall of 2023.
“I plan to teach the first nursing course, NUR 301: Professional Nursing and Culture of Health. This course will offer a broad overview of nursing and career expectations, in addition to how nurses must care for themselves.”
Peterson says there are four core themes integrated into the bachelor’s in nursing degree program curriculum. These themes apply to all of the degree programs housed in the College of Health Professions, which also includes a BS in health education and health promotion and BS in respiratory therapy. The four themes are interprofessional communication, evidence-based practice, culture of health, and clinician well-being.
“As a nurse, you think about how many people we communicate with every day at the bedside,” she says. “From the patient to their loved ones to all of our colleagues, the nurse has to be a great communicator. We have to be the eyes and ears for the patient and advocate on their behalf. As far as evidence-based practice, health care is ever-changing, and what nurses need to know doesn’t stop when they graduate. They must continue to learn. Culture of health involves the health and well-being of people along with creating an equitable environment to have the opportunities to make choices that lead to healthy lifestyles. This not only relates to the general population, but also to clinician well-being. Making healthy lifestyle choices is so important to succeeding in this career. If clinicians don’t take care of themselves, there won’t be enough nurses to go around and care for those in need.”
The undergraduate nursing program is targeting traditional high school students entering college. However, there is a major opportunity for transfer students as well. Incoming students must have a 3.0 GPA in high school and a solid track record in their math and science coursework. During their spring semester of their second year at Saint Leo, students are reevaluated through application to the nursing program and must have at least a 3.3 GPA and a ‘B’ or higher in their anatomy and physiology and college algebra courses.
Students are also required to earn a composite score of 78 or higher on the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS) exam, commonly given to students pursuing degree programs in nursing.
Along with these academic requirements, Peterson explains what makes an ideal student for this nursing degree program.
“Not only are we looking for students who can handle the academic rigor, but we also want students with a caring, compassionate, and ethical mindset.”
And what are her specific goals as a nursing professor in this newly established program?
“My No. 1 goal is to grow our program,” she says. “I would also like to see us admit students twice per year at some point so that we are graduating new nurses two times a year as more nurses are needed. It would be great to see us start a Master of Nursing degree program down the road as well.”
In terms of the enjoyment she gets out of teaching, it all comes down to seeing the fruits of her labor as an educator pay off.
“The students are a pure joy to work with, especially when they have that ‘a-ha’ moment and the lightbulb goes on and they say, ‘I get it; now I see what you were talking about in class.’”
It’s even more of a thrill when she sees them out in the workforce as a professional nurse.
Peterson offers up her perspective on the current state of the nursing field and why nurses are so in demand.
“There is a huge opportunity in nursing,” she says. “Even before the COVID-19 pandemic started, there was a nursing shortage throughout this country. Part of this is because even though there are nursing degree programs out there, there is a lack of nursing faculty since many are retiring and are not being replaced. With our new program here at Saint Leo, hopefully we can put more nurses out into the workforce.”
According to a 2018 nursing workforce report, there will be a major shortage of registered nurses by the year 2030, particularly in southern states like Florida. Plus, nursing as a profession has been shown to be viewed by others in an extremely positive light. For 20 years in a row, the Gallup poll has identified nurses as being the most honest and ethical among over 20 professions. Peterson believes all of this research is solid evidence as to why any prospective student should seriously consider a nursing degree and future career in this rewarding field.