Release Date: Wednesday, June 06, 2012
Josephine Kahler, new dean of the University of Charleston's School of Health Sciences, stands in a mock emergency room that's used for training nurses and other health-care students.
by Sara Busse
The Charleston Gazette
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Starting a new degree program in a college is an extensive and daunting mission, but the new dean of the University of Charleston's School of Health Sciences says she's not only up to the task, she will embrace it.
Josephine Kahler has worked all over the country and around the world in health care and academic settings. Her diminutive stature, her piercing blue eyes and her soft accent from her native New Zealand, all rolled up with a bit of Texas spunk, make her a force to be reckoned with. She followed her late husband, a pilot in the U.S. Navy, on many tours of duty and always found herself starting something new in every setting.
"He was stationed in South America, and I helped the embassy nurse as a volunteer," Kahler said. This wasn't enough to keep her busy, and the traditional roles of military wife didn't suit her.
"I didn't play bridge, you see, and all of the military wives played bridge. So I started a free clinic," she said. She persuaded a physician to help, and lined up a convent for the site of the clinic.
"At the time, drug companies were generous with their samples, so I persuaded many of the Navy wives to combine samples into lovely little bottles so we could provide penicillin and other drugs for the very poor who came to our clinic." She said the lack of hygiene in Quito, Ecuador, where she started the clinic, was overwhelming.
Kahler uses the word "persuaded" a lot -- but her easygoing, can-do style means her powers of persuasion are effective.
That attitude led UC to hire her, as the school embarks on a new four-year master's program in physician assistant studies. The curriculum will be up and running and will admit 30 students to the program in January 2013. Kahler praised the director of the new venture, David Payne, who leads a staff of six.
"Nurse practitioners and PAs are often the front line in health care right now," Kahler said. She noted that fewer students are going for full-fledged medical degrees because of the length of the course of study.
As dean of the School of Health Sciences, Kahler will oversee the physician's assistant program, the associate degree in nursing (two-year degree) and the bachelor of science in nursing (four-year degree), the athletic training degree and the radiology degree. She quickly points out that the students in these degree areas "all walk into jobs right after graduation."
Kahler started a bachelor's degree program in nursing at Francis Marion University in South Carolina. Her most recent employment was as the founding dean of the College of Health and Behavioral Sciences at Texas A&M-Texarkana, where she started a bachelor's degree program in nursing, and added both traditional and online master's programs.
But she's very deliberate about launching new programs.
"You must assess the needs before starting the program," she said. "It's a lot of work, but if you want a quality program, you have to know what is needed." She said she doesn't want to shortchange her students. "You have to be accredited."
Kahler's top priority for the UC nursing program is to graduate more four-year nursing students. A recent Institute of Medicine report stated that by 2020, 80 percent of all bedside nurses will have a bachelor's degree. Kahler pointed to the "Magnet Status" that many hospitals are working toward -- a standard of excellence in the health-care field. That status demands four-year degree nurses.
By January, when the physician's assistant program is up and running, Kahler will oversee a faculty of 28 and 157 students in six areas of study.
The mother of three grown children and three grandchildren, Kahler married Edward Lamb, a native of Scotland, after being set up by her daughter. He was a friend of Kahler's brother, and following a trip to visit her uncle where he was working in Holland, Kahler's daughter suggested her mother call Lamb.
"I called him and invited him to our home for the millennial Christmas," Kahler said matter-of-factly, not thinking that an international blind date was all that unusual. "Well, I had seen photos of him!"
Someone recently asked her where she was from, and she had to laugh when they said, "No, you're not from Texas." Her New Zealand accent is still evident even though she'd lived all over the world before coming from the Lone Star State to West Virginia.
Her world came full circle recently when she was attending a conference. A group of nurses were talking about a mission trip they had undertaken, and she discovered they had been working at a clinic she had started.
Kahler talks of stints in South Dakota, South Carolina, the District of Columbia, Arkansas, Florida, Sicily, South America -- and each has a tale of accomplishment in the nursing field.
"I've been exposed to a lot of different cultures, and parts of this country and the world," she said. "I'm very glad to be in West Virginia."