New Dean Advances Role of Nurses in Health Care

With nearly 40 years of nursing leadership experience and an impressive array of credentials and certifications, Michael Bleich (pronounced “Bly”), PhD, RN, is the new Maxine Clark and Bob Fox Dean of Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish College.

“I think of all nurses as leaders.” -Michael Bleich, PhD, RN, FAAN, president and dean of Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish College

Before coming to Goldfarb, Michael held several positions in health care leadership and education, most notably serving as dean of the Oregon Health & Science University School of Nursing and as associate dean at the University of Kansas School of Nursing, in addition to hospital executive positions.

But no matter what position he has held, he always considers himself a nurse first.

“I think of all nurses as leaders,” he says. “I’ve always tried to actively practice nursing even while in leadership positions. When I’m not at the bedside, I’ve focused on what I can do administratively to impact patients. I’m a systems thinker and enjoy working with people on multiple levels. This has allowed me to put better patient care systems together that influence nurse training and their ability to provide better care.”

On the national front, Michael was the only dean of nursing to serve on the Institute of Medicine (IOM) Committee that issued the 2011 IOM Report on nursing and health care. “This report created a blueprint for bringing health back into health care and embracing the wellness aspect.”

He continues: “As dean, I hope to advance nursing’s role in implementing the report’s recommendations. This includes expanding the scope of advanced nurse practitioner capabilities in Missouri. Some people inaccurately believe that nurse practitioners are practicing medicine because they have the capacity to address disease and treatment. But they are practicing nursing—wellness strategies, health promotion techniques to keep disease from progressing, coordinating care with other providers and agencies, and ensuring that the patient’s family is supported. So while there is some overlap with physicians, the model is different. By allowing advanced nurse practitioners to practice a broader scope of care, we can better meet health care disparities, improve access and improve health overall in our state and beyond.”

Michael believes Goldfarb is uniquely poised to help influence these changes and more in the nursing field because of the school’s strong faculty and leadership.

Sharing Experience and Wisdom One-on-One

In his leadership role, Michael spends considerable time working directly with nursing students. “I want students to benefit from the faculty’s collective wisdom by sharing our experiences and knowledge with them,” he says. “We coach and encourage them. I want them to know us personally and know we advocate for them. And I want students to see early in their education that they can do many things and that they can reinvent themselves in new ways throughout their careers in the nursing field.”

He emphasizes the value of the nurse’s role in patient care. “My goal is to teach nurses how to be a nurse, not just to ‘do nursing.’ It’s all about the human connection. Nurses focus on patients, the family, and the community and their quality of life. Nurses must realize that simply their presence is an instrument of healing when, for instance, medical therapies fail at the end of life.”

Preparing Nurses for Every Setting, Every Patient

As the new dean, Michael plans to further develop the school’s growing graduate and doctoral programs and strengthen the nursing science component at Goldfarb. He defines nursing science as the human response to disease and its impact on individuals, families and communities. It’s the perfect complement to medical science, he says, which studies the human body, its disease and cures.

“By expanding nursing science through Goldfarb, we’ll carve a stronger role in patient care delivery. Through exemplary clinical experiences, our student nurses are exposed to a full range of acute, long-term, community and primary care, complemented by outstanding faculty to lead them. We’ll prepare nurses with a diverse portfolio of competencies to match the multiple patient care settings where nurses practice.”

In addition, Michael’s goal is to expose students to the larger world around us. “My mantra is ‘global is local,’” he says. “We have a broad array of global communities here in St. Louis. It’s important that our student nurses are exposed to this diversity because nursing as a discipline is committed to dealing with all people to advance health.”

More than ever, nursing scholarships are critical to meet the increasing nationwide demand for nurses, he adds. “Many adults are rethinking their careers. While higher education is a good investment, it’s also expensive and daunting to many people. Supporting nursing scholarships offers a tremendous return on investment. Nurses help everyone from your neighbors to your family to yourself. And with an aging population, we’ll need many more competent nurses to meet the demand and to offer patients a better quality of life.”

Maximizing the Impact of Gifts

In his first few months on the job, Michael has developed a full plate of initiatives to improve nursing education, and ultimately patient care. Yet he is still carefully considering some steps. He recognizes the magnitude of responsibility in stewarding the endowed position he holds as the Maxine Clark and Bob Fox dean and professor. “I deeply appreciate the gift and the accountability that goes with it,” he says. “I’m still developing a strategic plan and am looking at the best ways to use the endowed support to meet our goals.”

He says he will likely direct support toward student programming and faculty development. “But I’m in the process of drilling down to specifics to maximize the impact of the generous gift.”

Please support scholarships at Goldfarb School of Nursing by making a gift to the Goldfarb School of Nursing Scholarship Fund (#0374) at The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital. Make a donation online, call 314-286-0600 or email

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