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Dr. Kim Sears (centre) with her colleagues on the poster scientific committee at the International Council of Nurses in Geneva, Switzerland.

Planes, trains, and automobiles – nursing professors travel during academic leave

The following is a guest blog by Dr. Jennifer Medves, Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences and Director of the School of Nursing at Queen’s University.

One of the privileges of working in a university is the opportunity to take a year-long academic leave. Sometimes called a sabbatical from the Greek sabbatikos (of the sabbath), one modern definition from the Merriam-Webster dictionary is ‘a break or change from a normal routine (as of employment).’ It is an important definition particularly the ‘change.’ Academic leaves are not the nirvana that many people assume. The leave is an opportunity to refocus research, develop as a teacher, expand research networks, write, publish, and present, and travel to another academic setting as a visiting scholar. The privilege of a sabbatical is that it can occur every seven years during an academic career.

In the School of Nursing, we often have one or two professors on sabbatical at any given time. In my position, I review the plan for the year and then read the reports the following year. However, the most joy I feel is the reports I receive during the year by email, phone, or face-to-face. Having a call from Geneva to describe a ‘unique and wonderful opportunity’ and ‘can I say yes to be appointing to…’ makes my job one of the best in the world.

For many nurses, the first time that they have to design a year of leave can be hard to imagine and plan. Many who end up in academia have spent at least ten years in nursing education, have or are raising children, and/or have had a busy clinical career. For some it is scary, as they will travel alone for the first time or be taking their family on a journey of discovery with them. Organizing travel and home schooling for the children are all of a sudden really difficult and nutty problems. Some let their houses out or find a house swap with another academic in another place.

I have been faced with many questions over the last few years as a consequence of a complete renewal of faculty about the expectations of an academic leave. Eight years ago, the School of Nursing faculty started a cycle of recruitment and we now have the start of academic leaves, as five faculty have been granted tenure and promotion. Dr. Kim Sears returned on July 1st 2017, as her colleagues Dr. Kevin Woo and Dr. Rosemary Wilson started their leaves. Dr. Christina Godfrey is leaving on January 1st 2018 and Dr. Joan Almost on July 1st 2018.

They have taken or are about to take their leaves all over the world – Australia, South Africa, Rwanda, France, Switzerland, Italy, England, Scotland, Chile, Brazil, Hong Kong, and China. They are going to conferences – to present and to listen, to conduct primary research and implementation science, they are going to teach health care professionals, sit on national health care quality committees, participate in international committees to develop guidelines or policy statements. All in all, they will be really busy.

The travel will provide outstanding opportunities to share with the perspectives of nursing in Canada and academia with those who will, in turn, share their unique perspectives. These exchanges of ideas then enrich our nursing curricula and guide our lines of inquiry in the future. Academic leaves do not simply revitalize individuals, they expand our understanding, develop new and exciting international partnerships and influence our education program.

I can’t wait to hear about the travel and research. I am ready for new and radical ideas for refocusing our education and research programs. My Go-To-Meeting room is open for conversation and stories, and my door is also always open – particularly as my office is freezing cold with an over enthusiastic air-conditioner blasting cold air on my head at the moment. To those of us left in Kingston, have a wonderful and restful summer break, whenever it comes. It is only two weeks until we welcome our first cohort of new students so we are busy ramping up to welcome them to Queen’s and Kingston.

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