The Johns Hopkins Gazette: May 17, 1999
May 17, 1999
VOL. 28, NO. 35


1999 State Educator Award Goes to Shiber

Nursing administrator recognized for leadership, innovative programming

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

Stella Shiber remembers her days as charge nurse of a 45-bed medical unit in a Nashville hospital. It was a place where she typically worked eight-hour days, sometimes well beyond that, and was responsible for "everything"--that meant all the medications, treatments, orders and a four-person staff.

Shiber also vividly recalls her first patient who died while under her care, an overweight Irish police officer in his 40s, who, according to Shiber, "looked so robust and healthy, it was hard to believe he had just passed away."

The first faculty member hired in 1983 by the newly established School of Nursing, Stella Shiber created the original curriculum and has since added many programs and services.

It was Shiber's first experience with death, and, oh yeah, all this occurred when she was barely 18.

"If you haven't yet matured, you probably will really fast dealing with something like that," Shiber says. "It forces you to deal with issues that you don't usually deal with that young. You begin to ask questions like, What is life all about? Why is this bright and talented young man of 18 dying from kidney failure?"

Shiber says that in those days young nursing students were accustomed to being thrown right into the fire.

"That was the kind of responsibility you were given back then," she says. "Particularly if you had the ability, you were singled out. You were expected to do it, and you often weren't treated very well."

Shiber, now associate dean for Professional Education Programs and Practice at the School of Nursing, is quite familiar with her profession's darker period--a time when nursing students staffed hospital wards for eight-hour shifts, and not just on weekdays but also at night and on weekends, all this in addition to a full schedule of courses. It was an era when, if a physician walked into a nursing station, nurses were expected to stand.

This "rigid class structure" did not sit very well with Shiber.

"One of the reasons I became an educator and continued my education was because I disagreed with the way nursing students were treated," Shiber says. "I thought they were extremely valuable resources. We were the ones doing all the care, but we were treated like low men on the totem pole. We were taken for granted. I felt it shouldn't be this way, and my resolve was that I was going to change that."

She has kept her word.

For the past four decades Shiber has served as caregiver, teacher and administrator in the world of nursing. She has had a tremendous impact in and around Hopkins by shaping the curriculum at the School of Nursing and establishing a system of three health-care clinics where students and faculty can assist residents of impoverished Baltimore neighborhoods.

Her efforts haven't gone unnoticed: Shiber was recently presented with the 1999 Maryland Association for Higher Education's Outstanding Educator of the Year Award in the administrative category, for which she was nominated by President William R. Brody. The annual award honors administrators who have shown leadership qualities in establishing programs, policies or procedures that provide a unique and outstanding service and create a favorable educational environment.

"Stella Shiber is a quiet visionary who prefers to deflect praise to others. I am privileged to have her as a colleague and a mentor. Her leadership of the School of Nursing and the profession has revolutionized community health nursing," says Sue Donaldson, dean of the school. "She is deserving of the highest level of recognition, and we are pleased she received the MAHE award."

Looking back, Shiber has come a long way in her career.

Shiber grew up in a large Irish working-class family in Nashville, Tenn. The second oldest of eight children, she often had to take care of her younger siblings because her mother was in poor health, and her father, Hart Sullivan, who had been a professional baseball player with the Chicago White Sox, worked long hours to support his family.

"There just were not enough hands. So at times we had to do everything. You name it, I had done it," says Shiber, who still has a noticeable Southern drawl.

Shiber goes on to list her responsibilities, which included cooking, cleaning, ironing, taking care of the newborn babies and playing doctor when her brothers came to her with broken arms and collarbones.

"Which might have had something to do with me choosing nursing, I guess," Shiber says with a hint of sarcasm. "I was also fairly typical of the kind of person who would go into nursing at the time. The resources for education in working-class families were not ample, especially if you were from a large family, because the resources would typically go to the males. They were the ones who for all their life would have to earn a living. It was assumed that most women would not; we would marry and have someone take care of us. That was difficult."

After she graduated from high school, Shiber entered a hospital nursing diploma program in Nashville and then went on to earn her bachelor's degree at the University of Tennessee. For the next several years, she worked her way up the nursing ranks.

For all the hardships she had to endure, Shiber says she fell in love with nursing.

"Everything I did made a difference. When I worked in the state hospital and took care of patients who were mentally ill, I realized I was dealing with people who had had no prior professional care at all," Shiber says. "Everything that I did was just so needed. That was something that motivated me."

Shiber moved to Maryland in the early 1960s to earn her master's degree in psychiatric nursing at the University of Maryland at Baltimore. Following that, Shiber took a faculty position at The Johns Hopkins Hospital nursing diploma program. It was at this time that she met her husband, who was going to the University of Maryland School of Law.

At Hopkins, Shiber not only was a faculty member who taught students, she was also supervisor of the psychiatric buildings on weekends. Back then the nursing students were the ones who provided care for all the hospital units, Shiber says, and the nursing faculty rotated as the person responsible for the whole building.

Shiber then left nursing for 10 years to raise her four children. During this period the hospital's diploma program closed, and the Hopkins School of Health Services opened.

She returned to teaching in 1976, taking a full-time faculty position at Health Services, which closed in 1979. She then took a full-time faculty position at the College of Notre Dame while enrolled again at the University of Maryland, this time to earn her doctorate in social welfare with a specialization in health-care organizations.

She received her doctorate in 1983, the same year the School of Nursing was established. In fact, Shiber was the first faculty member appointed to the newly established school.

Shiber says that completing her degree the same year that the new school came into being was a "very fortunate coming together of events." Now came Shiber's chance to put her personal stamp on the curriculum of a nursing school.

"I was quite lucky to be part of setting up a program from scratch. You didn't have any history or any constraints. Basically we started from ground zero and conceptualized what a nursing program should be like," Shiber says.

Shiber says she never envisioned herself as an administrator because she loved clinical teaching and practice too much. But once this new program was put together, she "just couldn't let go.

"The only way to make sure that things were unfolding and being carried out the way they were intended was to be there. So I just slipped in a little bit at a time, but it was not part of the plan," Shiber says.

Shiber has dedicated a large part of her time to developing a community service aspect to the school's curriculum. One of her first initiatives was to obtain funding to attract returned Peace Corps volunteers to the school to become nurses. In 1991, she applied for and was awarded one of President Clinton's Americorps grants, the only one given to a school of nursing. This grant was the impetus for establishing a community nursing model and the Peace Corps Fellows Program at Hopkins, of which Shiber was later to become the director.

To have a Peace Corps Fellows Program, the school was required to put the students in a service setting where they could integrate their new professional learning with their Peace Corps experience. However, since these students weren't licensed, they had to be put in clinics where Hopkins faculty could supervise them. The Americorps grant thus helped to fund the Peace Corps fellows service in the community.

"It bought us some time to get the program up and running and get services offered on a regular basis," Shiber says.

One of these services was the Lillian D. Wald Community Health Center, located at 1600 N. Rutland Ave., that Shiber helped found. It is the first independent nurse-managed health clinic in Hopkins' history, and it has been a very successful program in delivering free health care in East Baltimore. In 1998, more than 600 women and children received care at the Wald Center.

Shiber has since helped to set up clinic sites at St. Bernandine's School and at the Hillside Apartments in West Baltimore. Plans also are being developed for a site in the Cherry Hill area of Southeast Baltimore, which should be open in September.

Shiber is very proud of the work done at these clinics and says it has become a very important aspect of the students' educational experience at the School of Nursing.

In 1993, Shiber became associate dean of undergraduate programs and continuing education. She now has responsibilities for the school's baccalaureate and master's professional degree programs. Since 1995, Shiber has served as associate dean of professional education programs and practice. She still finds time to teach a class or two, but not as often as she would like.

Quite modest in terms of her receiving the Educator of the Year Award, Shiber says she could not have accomplished all she has done by herself. And anyway, she is only following her father's advice.

"I could just hear my father say, 'You should always do things as well as you possibly can. If it is worth doing, it is worth doing well.' It sounds hokey, but that is just the way I was taught," Shiber says.

It's quite fitting that prominently displayed in Shiber's office are many plants, photos of her children and a biography of Florence Nightingale. The scene illustrates her roles as nurturer, mother and caregiver.

And according to a woman who works in Shiber's office, she is even more than that. "Put this in your article," she says to the reporter, poking her head into the office while Shiber steps out for a minute. "She is just a wonderful lady."