Truly a Work of Heart

Outgoing USD School of Nursing Dean Sally Hardin


There is an irony to Sally Hardin stepping down after 14 eventful years as dean of the Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science. Before returning as a professor at the school, Hardin will take a sabbatical to write its history — a history in which she has played a pivotal role.

Founded in 1974, the Hahn School had laid a solid foundation in graduate education by the time Hardin succeeded Janet Rodgers as dean in 2003.

“The faculty and staff were top-flight,” Hardin recalls, but the school was also coping with the growing pains that come as a new school morphs into an elite institution.

Advents in technology as well as the role of nursing itself in the health care pantheon were evolving. Faculty and staff needed to be recruited. Gender equity in the profession dominated by women needed to be promoted.

Revenue streams needed to be enlarged and increased. Facilities needed in some cases to be modernized; in others to be created from scratch.

Fast-forward 14 years.

The little school that could, now one of the highest ranking Catholic graduate nursing schools in the U.S., according to an independent ranking, recently expanded into the state-of-the-art quarters of the Betty and Bob Beyster Institute for Nursing Research, Advanced Practice, and Simulation. The student population has tripled, consisting of some 20 percent males, with an overall diversity percentage of approximately one-half. The faculty has likewise tripled and includes the school’s first endowed chair — Robert Topp, BSN, MSN, PhD.

The school that had received about $1 million in grants between 1974 and 2003 (and an additional $4 million in grants and gifts to build the Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science building) has since generated more than $22 million in grants and $20 million in gifts.

Perhaps most significantly, Hardin has been instrumental in turning the school’s focus toward research.

“A lot of nursing has always been: We do this because this is how we’ve always done it,” Hardin says, leading into her definition of what sets USD nursing alumni apart. “Our nurse-scientists gather data and conduct research to change and improve patient care and its outcomes.”

That effort has led to tangible success. The Hahn School of Nursing and Heath Science is currently ranked in the top 5 percent in U.S. News & World Report’s list of graduate nursing schools. That success is “not my opinion,” says the outgoing dean so dedicated to the empirical world of research. “That’s based on hard data.”

Hardin says she’s looking forward to pursuing other passions, including more leisure time with her husband, Thomas, and work with the Pasadena International Film Festival. But the Hahn School will always have a special place for her.

“Irene Palmer, the founding dean, used to call me the daughter she never had,” Hardin says. “This school and the people aren’t like family — they are family.” — Timothy McKernan

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