As a psychology major and biology minor at Beloit, Courtney Lyder’88 didn’t originally intend to pursue a career in nursing. However, Debra Poole, then chair of Beloit’s psychology department, saw his potential. She suggested that he attend Rush University in Chicago for his bachelor’s degree in nursing, and Lyder thought, ‘Why would I do that?’
He took her advice anyway and went on to earn his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees in nursing from Rush. “I did it, and everything fell into place,” he says.
Today, Lyder is a national leader in health care, a respected researcher in patient safety and geriatric nursing, and a leading advocate for increasing diversity in the health professions.
In 2008, after various roles at Yale University’s School of Nursing and the University of Virginia Medical Center, Lyder was named dean of the UCLA School of Nursing. In assuming that post, he became the first African-American male dean of a U.S. nursing school, as well as one of less than 3 percent of U.S. deans younger than the age of 45.
“It’s an amazing, humbling experience,” Lyder says of his career. “If you look at U.S. News & World Report in terms of the most trusted profession, the No. 1 is nursing. For me, that is an amazing responsibility to have on my shoulders, and I gladly wear it.”
As dean, Lyder—who moved to Manhattan from Trinidad as a child—is responsible for implementing the goals of the school’s faculty and staff and moving the school and its mission forward.
“We strive for uncompromised excellence in our research and our educational mission,” Lyder says of the top-ranked school. “We strive every day to ensure that we have the best programs in this country, and we have a mission to ensure that the nurses we produce are meeting the needs of society.”
One major issue nurses are currently facing in their field is the Affordable Health Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
“There is no school of nursing that isn’t thinking about how nurses need to practice in the future because of the Affordable Health Care Act,” he says.
For the UCLA School of Nursing, that means preparing the best nurses for the future by maintaining excellence in its core classes and by constantly ensuring that the curriculum is in sync with what the nation needs.
“Today it may be that we need to prepare nurse practitioners, tomorrow it may be some other kind of specialist, but we always need to be on the precipice of health care,” he says. “We as nurses have to be on the forefront of that change.”
An aging population is another challenge for which nurses must be equipped.
According to AARP, the number of Americans over the age of 65 will double by 2030, resulting in an expected 25 percent rise in health care costs.
“Geriatric nursing is tantamount to the type of nurses we need to be preparing,” says Lyder, adding that most students entering nursing school want to practice pediatric or OB/GYN nursing.
To introduce them to what Lyder calls the future of health care, the UCLA School of Nursing has incorporated a course called Practices in Geriatric Nursing into the undergraduate curriculum.
Elder care is a strong interest area for Lyder, whose close relationship with his grandparents inspired him to advance that area of his profession.
In the past, as a senior consultant to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, he played a central role in shaping federal policies related to elder care, particularly focusing on how to improve patient safety for seniors in hospitals.
One of his most notable investigations, funded by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, involved co-leading research that identified how hospital errors affected the Medicare population. His findings influenced the government to stop paying for the treatment of preventable conditions that patients contract in hospitals.
In total, Lyder has received approximately $12 million in research funding related to the health care needs of older adults.
Though he says the level of respect for the nursing profession has increased over the last 25 years, Lyder believes the public’s perception and the media’s portrayal of nursing is still often outdated and incorrect. (See sidebar.)
As dean, he is working to reimagine and redefine nursing through messages he shares with faculty and students, as well as through articles and an annual “Nurses and the Media” conference.
For Lyder, who is a licensed registered nurse in three states and the second-youngest member inducted into the American Academy of Nursing, his career has been a gift, and he credits his Beloit education in helping him along the way.
In addition to learning how to think and how to be a leader at Beloit, he says he benefited from his psychology major.
“For me that was one of the best things I could do because it taught me how to talk to people,” Lyder says.
Besides psychology, Lyder advises aspiring nurses to consider majors such as biology, because nurses do a lot of science work, or even the humanities, as a base.
Most importantly, he says, nurses need big hearts.
“Nursing is one of the noblest professions,” Lyder says. “In one day you can see a life go past you or you can save a life. To think that you have the potential ability to hold someone’s hand when they’re dying, to hold one’s hand when they’re happy, and to be in their space for a brief moment of time, what more humbling experience can you have?”