When UC Irvine was recruiting a founding director for its new nursing science program in the College of Health Sciences, the search led all the way to Pittsburgh. There, Ellen Olshansky was working as professor and chair of health and community systems in the University of Pittsburgh’s nursing school – one of the top-10 nursing programs in the country. Olshansky’s experience as a nursing administrator, educator, researcher and practitioner spans more than 30 years. UCi magazine talked with Olshansky about her plans for the nursing program:

What drew you to UCI – and to the nursing program?

I love the West Coast, and I was at the perfect point in my career to take the next step. I’m attracted to the idea of building something from the ground up. And I’m not doing this on my own. I’m building on (program administrator) Ellen Lewis’ strong foundation. I’m still learning.

What’s the current status of the nursing program?

We have a baccalaureate program in place, and this fall we have 122 students. We have a proposal for a master’s program in the approval process, and we’re working on proposals for doctorates in nursing science and nursing practice. A Family Nurse Practitioner post-master’s certificate program has existed in UCI health sciences since 1995, and we’re moving this into a master’s program within the Program in Nursing Science. The goal is that our program will become a School of Nursing.

What will make UCI’s nursing program unique?

Many nursing programs are little silos – they’re isolated. I’d like there to be more permeable boundaries between UCI and the community. One of the reasons UCI got approval for the program is the huge nursing shortage. When our students do clinical rotations, they’ll be working at UC Irvine Medical Center and local hospitals where there’s a need. Currently, the School of Medicine has a program called PRIME-LC that trains doctors to help underserved Latinos. I want to develop a PRINE-LC – for nurses – that will immerse students in local Latino healthcare agencies.

What is your vision for the school?

I want us to collaborate with other UCI healthcare programs, including the College of Health Sciences’ new programs in public health and pharmaceutical sciences. We’re new, so we have a great opportunity to collaborate from the ground up. I also want to develop strong interpersonal relationships among students, patients and staff. It’s about creating a work environment where people feel safe to discuss their ideas and offer different perspectives, so we can find constructive solutions together.

Why did you choose nursing as a vocation?

It’s a bit of a blur (laughs). I got my bachelor’s in social work, and as I was about to graduate, I became really interested in patient care. I’ve always been interested in working with people in their social context – how race, culture, economics and other factors impact their health. It’s part of my identity. I don’t think we can separate people’s health from their living situation.

What kind of impact do you hope the program will have?

I want to put the nursing program on the map. On Sept. 12, we had a luncheon with Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, who is sponsoring a bill for loan forgiveness for nurses after graduation. We introduced our new nursing program to the community and shared our excitement about our work. My hope is that we’ll make a difference in the health of the community we serve, and teach students they can make a difference in their patients’ health. Sometimes I feel I’m idealistic, but I don’t want to lose that. How else can you make a difference?