June 16, 2011

Former VUSN dean recalled as innovator, leader

Former VUSN dean recalled as innovator, leader

Luther Christman, Ph.D., R.N., dean of the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing from 1967 to 1972, died last week at his home in Chapel Hill, Tenn. He was 96.

Luther Christman, Ph.D., R.N.

Luther Christman, Ph.D., R.N.

Dr. Christman came to Vanderbilt as a national leader in nursing and a fellow of the Academy of Nursing. His appointment at Vanderbilt made him the first male dean of a nursing school in the country.

Considered an innovator of new models of nursing practice and education, Dr. Christman made significant and often controversial changes in the curriculum and structure of the school.

“Luther was an icon in the nursing profession who left an indelible mark on Vanderbilt,” said Colleen Conway-Welch, Ph.D., CNM, dean of VUSN.

“He was exactly what the school needed at the time; someone who challenged the way things were done and who wasn’t afraid to try new approaches.”

At the time of his arrival, the undergraduate program was small, the graduate program was unaccredited and few faculty had doctoral degrees.
Dr. Christman changed all that.

His efforts were directed toward unifying education and service. He endorsed moving all non-clinical activities to Vanderbilt University Hospital administration.

He embraced the concept of joint appointments between the school and hospital to provide a professional model of care to nursing staff and students. He spearheaded a revised curriculum based on transforming basic science into practice.

He hired more doctorally prepared faculty and changed the faculty and administrative reporting structure.

“Dr. Christman was truly a pioneer in nursing leadership. He embodied the value of nursing and patient care as well as innovation in nursing practice and education,” said Marilyn Dubree, MSN, R.N.

“His legacy gave us a strong foundation in education, practice and research. Dr. Christman’s passion for nursing and patient care was felt by all who had the privilege of knowing him.”

Dr. Christman left Vanderbilt in 1972 to become the first dean of Rush University College of Nursing and vice president of Nursing Affairs at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center. At Rush, he continued efforts to integrate practice, education and research in nursing until his retirement in 1987.

Throughout his career, he remained a controversial figure, a strong supporter for the recruitment of male nurses and is known as one of the most honored and awarded professionals in the history of American nursing.

Dr. Christman was preceded in death by his wife, Dorothy, in 2003. He is survived by his three children, four grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and four great-great grandchildren.