SRU’s College of Health Professions creates a vision of collaboration and community engagement 


Dean Karshin

Christine Karshin, the first-year dean of Slippery Rock University’s College of Health Professions, answered questions about the shared vision of the new college after its first semester. 

Jan. 5, 2023

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — Christine Karshin just completed her first semester as dean of Slippery Rock University's College of Health Professions. The CHP was established for the fall 2022 semester and is SRU's fifth college. After a semester of working with faculty and administrators, Karshin has some clear plans for how CHP will serve students, the community and health care employers in the region.

The CHP vision statement is "The College of Health Professions prepares health professionals through community engagement, collaboration, and academic excellence." Why is community such a strong emphasis?

Karshin: "Certainly, it's important what our students are learning here on campus, but we need to make sure we are giving them opportunities to get out into the community to practice their craft, and, at the same time, provide a great service to our community. From an educational standpoint, it gives students the opportunity to get a sense of whether or not this is the type of work they want to be doing, by working alongside others or simply job-shadowing. But most of all, it invigorates students to do the best they can when they return to the classroom because they see how what they are learning can be applied and that motivates them to be successful.

"Additionally, as a public university, there are ways we can improve how we are seen as a partner in the surrounding community and beyond. And the way we do that is for our faculty and students to get out there and fulfill needs. One example of this is our PA program's service project, called "ROCK-a-Bye Baby," where faculty, staff and students collected and donated books and recorders that are being used by families at neonatal intensive care units in Pittsburgh.

"Another example of community engagement is how we recruit students to ensure there is a steady pipeline of professionals entering the health care field. Our faculty travel to local high schools with pre-sports medicine concentrations and they talk about our exercise science and athletic training programs. Then we invite those students to come to campus. We had a busload of about 40 students attend one of our exercise science visitation days. Once prospective students see our campus, classrooms and labs, that's quite inspiring for them, and hopefully they consider SRU as one of their top college choices."

What about collaboration? Is that among faculty, students and health care professionals?

Karshin: "Short answer, 'Yes!' Health care is a team effort. Health care educators have historically prepared students in silos. If you went to nursing school, you learned how to be a nurse. If you went to PT school, you learned how to be a physical therapist. But in reality, on the first day of the job as a social worker, physical therapist, physician assistant, or an athletic trainer, you're going to be working side by side with people from many other disciplines. Very rarely do patients have problems that can be solved by a single health care professional throughout the course of their treatment. And because it's a collaborative effort, we must prepare students to be an integral part of a health care team.

"We want our students to collaborate and learn from one another. It's not just having conversations with students or faculty in other departments, it's providing them opportunities for simulations and cases they can work on together in small groups. That's why interprofessional education is so important. And employers are seeking students who have this experience while they are students."

But aren't most health care professions encouraged and rewarded to specialize?

Karshin: "Absolutely. You need people who specialize, and patients want the best and brightest within a particular discipline. When I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, I had a fantastic oncologist who did the surgery and provided treatment. Now I'm two and a half years in remission. But my oncologist was just one component of the team who took care of me during my six-month journey during the pandemic. Health care needs are complex: someone could have diabetes, heart disease and depression. There are all these factors. Yes, the health care industry is professionalized in such a way that you must really 'know your lane,' but to serve your patients can't always 'stay in your lane.' Health care professionals cannot work in isolation to be effective.

What have you learned about the faculty since arriving at SRU?

Karshin: "We have wonderful faculty and they model the same approach to collaboration as practitioners out in the field. They work with one another within their disciplines, across disciplines, across colleges here on campus and across universities. They are doing a phenomenal job inviting our students to be part of their research, not as subjects but as researchers. This leads into the third part of our vision statement: academic excellence. We emphasize teaching. Our faculty are knowledgeable, and they hold our students to the highest standards because that's what it takes for them to succeed because patients' wellbeing and often their lives are at stake."

What are the benefits of having a College of Health Professions?

Karshin: "It's an external recognition of our programs to prospective students and employers, to internal processes and organizational structures. As a dean leading the college, I understand the disciplines and help navigate faculty and staff through their accreditation and re-accreditation processes. I can also help reinforce our commitment to interprofessional education. I've done a lot of that work at my previous institution (Eastern Michigan University) before coming here. As a University, this college will set us apart from other universities."

What's next for you and the college?

Karshin: "We're doing a thorough analysis to develop our mission and strategic plan. It's important that we are deliberate in the course we are charting for the next three to five years. As for me, I'm getting out to meet with employers and others in the community. I'm part of the Leadership Butler County program, where I get to meet people from across all industries. I'm also developing relationships that will lead to more shared resources. Resources are not just grants and fundraising opportunities, but bringing people to campus who have been successful in the disciplines that are represented in our college, as well people from other areas who can enhance the programs that we offer. This spirit of collaboration to make people successful and contribute to the greater good is not just practiced by health care professionals - it applies to the dean as well."

More information about the CHP is available on the college's webpage.

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