SHU Professor Honored by Peers with State’s Highest Nursing Education Award

News Story: October 10, 2012

Sacred Heart University Director of Undergraduate Nursing Kathleen Fries will this month receive one of the highest honors awarded by the Connecticut Nurses’ Association (CNA).

Fries, of Westport, will receive The Josephine A. Dolan Award for Outstanding Contributions to Nursing Education on October 18 at the CNA’s 106th annual convention and awards ceremony at the Crowne Plaza in Cromwell. This prestigious award recognizes individuals who have demonstrated leadership in nursing education and, because of their high-caliber work and vision, have become leading experts in the field.

The Josephine A. Dolan Award is one of seven Diamond Jubilee Awards the CNA established in 1980 to both mark the 75th anniversary of the association and recognize the best of the best in nursing in Connecticut. 

Fries said that having fellow nurses first nominate and then select her to receive this competitive award makes the experience all the more special. “To say I’m pleased is an understatement,” said Fries, who spent 10 years working in hospitals, followed by two years in home care, before coming to Sacred Heart as a professor in 1997. “I care so much about educating the next generation of nurses, and this award signifies that along with the great team I’m part of at Sacred Heart, I’m doing something right. It’s humbling and an honor, as well as a motivator, to keep working to make Sacred Heart’s already excellent nursing program even better.”

A certified child birth educator and lactation consultant who specializes in women’s and maternal child health, Fries’ work at Sacred Heart involves both teaching and ensuring that College of Health Professions undergraduate nursing students receive the classroom and clinical education needed to successfully pass their licensure exams. 

In 2011, Sacred Heart’s pass rate on the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses was 95 percent—a significant eight points higher than the national average of 87 percent.

“We can’t say yet for sure, but it looks like the 2012 numbers may be as high as just shy of 100 percent, which is thrilling,” Fries added. “This kind of pass rate—on most students’ first try—reflects the high quality of Sacred Heart’s nursing program and the commitment of all of our instructors, which I’m proud to be one of.”

To provide Sacred Heart nursing students with the broad range of clinical experiences they’ll need to excel in their fields—as well as to support Sacred Heart’s strong commitment to service learning—Fries in 2009 also began leading medical missions to Guatemala.

 The trips take nursing students twice a year to the small Guatemalan villages of San Antonio Aguas Calientes and Santa Maria de Jesus, where in tents, schools and churches, students set up clinics and rudimentary surgical facilities to see as many as 800-1,200 patients during a one-week stay.

“Before we started, many of the adult patients we see never had any type of medical care, let alone regular care,” said Fries, adding that last year, the trips expanded to include Sacred Heart occupational and physical therapy students. “Now, however, we’re able to see many of the same patients each time we go, which allows us to provide the needed follow-up to control conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure. The addition of OT and PT students means we can also now provide elderly patients, and those recovering from an accident or injury, much-needed rehabilitative care. It’s exciting, like nursing itself, which I hope is a feeling that I pass on to my students.”

Fries holds a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Seton Hall University, a master’s in nursing from Sacred Heart and a doctorate in nursing from the University of Connecticut.