RWJF Scholar Takes Helm of Nursing Journal

Executive Nurse Fellow Patricia Morton takes on new role as editor of the Journal of Professional Nursing

    • February 11, 2013

Patricia Morton is a renowned nurse and nurse educator—but it’s her vocation as a writer and editor that puts her in the national limelight.

On Jan. 1, Morton, PhD, RN, ACNP-BC, FAAN, took over as editor of the Journal of Professional Nursing, a publication for nurse educators published by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). She succeeds Ellen Olshansky, DNSc, RNC, who held the position for the last 10 years.

Morton, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Executive Nurse Fellow (2011-2014), plans to carry out her new responsibilities on top of her full-time duties as professor and associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Maryland School of Nursing and as a nurse practitioner at the University of Maryland Medical Center.   

“I see the additional work as part of my contribution to the discipline,” Morton says. “All faculty members are expected to publish. This is a way to provide scholarship and service.”

A nurse and nurse educator for more than three decades, Morton took the first steps toward her latest position in the early days of her career. In the 1970s, after earning a bachelor’s degree in biology, she switched gears and went into nursing, earning bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in quick succession and, later, a post-master’s nurse practitioner’s degree in acute care. She joined the faculty of the Maryland School of Nursing in 1980 and focused on education administration.

While launching her career in nursing education, Morton also nurtured her then-fledgling interest in writing. She sought out a mentor and drafted an article about the use of occupational health settings for nursing. It was published in 1982—and she was hooked.

Before long, Morton was getting invitations from publishers to write journal articles and book chapters. “It gradually snowballed,” she says.

Since then, she has published three textbooks and dozens of journal articles. She has sat on the editorial boards of a number of nursing journals. In 2004, she became editor of Clinical Issues: Advanced Practice in Acute and Critical Care, published by the American Association of Critical Care Nurses. She held the position for seven years.

Meanwhile, she taught nursing and focused on creating new academic programs to meet health care workforce needs. She helped launch new programs for acute-care nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, and students interested in earning doctorate degrees in nursing practice at the University of Maryland. She spearheaded a $3.3 million project to develop patient simulation laboratories, which has served as a model for nursing schools around the country. And Morton serves as co-chair of a campus committee on interprofessional education.

On top of these responsibilities, Morton has the new task of shepherding a prestigious nursing journal—distributed to more than 700 schools of nursing—to publication. Her goal is to help promote the mission and vision of AACN and to provide a valuable resource for educators, she says. In some ways, it will be easy: “I’ll be continuing a successful and stable journal.”

Bringing the Journal into the Digital Age

But in other ways, reaching her goals will be difficult. One challenge she faces is bringing the journal—which now exists entirely in print format—into the digital age. To do that, she plans to take baby steps, perhaps by providing links to articles on the journal’s website, videos of interviews with authors, and blog posts, or even by creating an application for use on electronic devices like tablets and smartphones. 

Morton is also considering articles that appear either in print or online, but not both—a policy that could be difficult to implement because of the perception that print is the more prestigious format. “Right now, we’re planning a blended approach,” she says.

Morton’s biggest concern is making the transition to the digital era without losing readers, who tend to be older and often most comfortable with a magazine they can flip through. “The average age of a nurse faculty member is in the early to mid-50s,” Morton says. “They grew up clutching a printed journal. But as younger faculty come along, we need to meet their needs as well.”

Content may change, too, she says. She plans to continue the journal’s scholarly emphasis on issues related to education, research and policy, but she wants to ensure that articles cover timely, contemporary issues in nursing, such as the national effort to implement recommendations from the 2010 report on the future of the nursing profession. That report, from the Institute of Medicine, addresses changes to the nursing profession as the health reform law is implemented. “My job as the editor is to always make sure I’m getting articles that are timely and of great interest to the reader,” she says.

The changes ahead may be challenging, Morton says, but not changing could create greater problems over time. “I worry we would become obsolete or, short of that, that we would lose our competitive edge in the market as a premier publication.”  As the journal’s new editor, Morton is not about to let that happen.

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