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  October 23, 2000

Nursing Professor Emphasizes
Human Aspects of Health Care

If Florence Nightingale, the English nurse and founder of modern nursing, was alive today, she'd most certainly befriend Carol Polifroni, associate professor of nursing.

Nightingale - known as the "Lady With The Lamp" because she believed a nurse's work was never ceasing - would take considerable comfort in Polifroni's teaching philosophy on the nurse-patient relationship in today's fragile health care delivery system. For Polifroni, the relationship must culminate in a connectedness beyond a physical presence. It's a point she regularly imparts to her students.

While Nightingale dedicated herself to one purpose, care of the sick and of the Crimean War wounded, Polifroni has dedicated herself in a way to one purpose, too: teaching

the science of nursing and the human connectedness needed in the profession.

The nurse, says Polifroni, must be an extension of the person who is in the bed or on the stretcher. "The nation's health care delivery system is spinning so fast," says Polifroni, referring to the multiple changes being made in health care coverage and hospital procedures. "Yet we're talking about the lives of individuals and every individual needs to be connected to someone else," whether it be a family member, significant other, a pet or the nurse.

For Polifroni, UConn's nursing students must always have a true understanding of that situation and Nightingale's style of human touch, along with good communications skills and acknowledging the respect and dignity of patients.

"I tell my students to always keep these things in their minds, because that's what's going to ground you," says Polifroni. She advises her students to treat patients as they would like to be treated themselves.

Since coming to the Storrs campus nearly 20 years ago, Polifroni has taught more than 6,000 undergraduate and graduate students, preparing them for careers in the health care field.

Her dedication to teaching as well as to the nursing profession was formally recognized in May when she was presented the University's Outstanding Faculty Advisor Award 2000. The award was established in 1999, making Polifroni the second recipient and the first faculty member in the School of Nursing to be given the honor.

"Carol was chosen from a very strong pool of nominees," says Susan Steele, vice provost for undergraduate education and instruction, who helped create the award. Steele says the award was created two years ago to raise the visibility both internally and externally of the role and work of faculty advisors.

Polifroni earned a bachelor's degree in science from St. Anselm College in New Hampshire, a master's of arts from New York University and a doctorate in education from Rutgers in her home state of New Jersey.

She first came to UConn in 1975 after earning her master's degree, left to pursue a doctorate, and returned to stay in 1981, when she resumed a full-time academic teaching position. In her undergraduat e classes, Polifroni covers historical and contemporary topics in the nursing field, from the origins of nursing to today's high health care costs.

She also teaches a course in nursing ethics. "We explore the appropriate use of technology in health care," says Polifroni, "the quality of life, and the dignity of patients."

She frequently takes her message outside the classroom as the invited guest of health care organizations. Recently she returned to New Jersey to discuss the changing trends in nursing administration to the staff at Englewood Hospital, where she once worked as an administrative supervisor.

At the master's level, Polifroni teaches organizational dynamics, labor relations, marketing and strategic planning along with staffing and scheduling topics.

On the doctoral level, she teaches the philosophy of science in nursing, positivism, the nature of scientific truth and the role of science and gender, along with critical social theory.

While Polifroni hears on a regular basis from a good number of her former undergraduate students, she takes pride in knowing first-hand the whereabouts and careers of every one of her master's and doctoral students.

And present-day students such as Barbara Jacobs, a Ph.D. candidate in her third year who has Polifroni as her advisor, reflect a widespread student liking for their professor.

"She is energetic, dedicated, fair and generous of her time," says Jacobs. "When you have a conference with her, you feel as if there is no one else in her world, but you."

For Polifroni, it's a world dedicated to students and consequently to their future patients. "I don't want the patient to get lost in the health care delivery system," she says. "My role as a professor is to make certain the student doesn't get lost in the educational system."

Claudia G. Chamberlain