School of Nursing names new Lillehei chair, Densford director

by Mickie Barg

After an intensive search, the University’s School of Nursing named professor Joanne Disch to a newly created position in honor of Katherine R. and C. Walton Lillehei.
Disch is now the Lillehei nursing leadership chair and the director of the Densford Center.
“Joanne has a broad perspective in nursing and an incredible number of contacts nationally and internationally,” said Sandra Edwardson, dean of the nursing school.
Disch had been acting as interim consulting director of the Densford Center since March. As a nurse specialist in cardiovascular critical care, Disch found that the history behind the Lillehei chair gave her extra incentive to take the position.
“Dr. Lillehei was a cardiac doctor at the University, and I have a background in caring for cardiac surgical patients,” Disch said. “I want to follow the principles that Lillehei put into practice. The position is a perfect fit.”
Mary Jo Kreitzer, director of the Center for Spirituality and Healing and founding director of the Densford Center, said Disch was the first choice for the position because of her natural leadership skills, enthusiasm and passion for nursing.
“Joanne has incredible vision,” Kreitzer said. “She will see unlimited opportunities that nursing can pursue.”
The Densford Center director and the Lillehei chair are a joint position with separate goals. The chair was endowed by a gift from the Lillehei family in January to implement the exploration of solutions to regional, national and international health issues.
The Densford Center director works with the Densford advisory board to enhance the development of nursing leaders and generate creativity and innovation.
“The focus of the position is to help nurses tackle today’s health care issues through forums and workshops and to help them be better leaders,” Disch said.
Her experience includes posts as the president of the American Association of Critical Care Nurses, senior associate director of nursing at the University hospital and clinics and vice president for patient-family services at Fairview-University Medical Center.
She has served as regional coordinator for the Colleagues in Caring Project and as a consultant in addition to her role with the Densford Center.
Disch sees a need to act on many issues affecting nurses today.
“I hope to help people think differently and act boldly,” Disch said. “I want to help people understand what is happening in health care today — understand what the context is and what we can do with it.”
She expressed the need for joint projects between the School of Nursing and the School of Pharmacy. Clinicians and researchers, Disch said, need to work together to make sure relevant research is done.
“People can astonish us with what they can create when they are brought together with common issues and concerns,” she said.
Disch also said she sees the Densford Center not just for the nursing school but as a resource for nurses throughout the state to encourage broad participation.

Mickie Barg covers the Medical School and welcomes comments at [email protected]