Aiken Chair strengthens UF Nursing research amid challenging environment

Dr. Linda AikenRecognizing an increased need for research to address the challenges of today’s nurses, renowned researcher and Gator Nurse alumna Linda Aiken, the Claire M. Fagin Leadership Professor of Nursing and a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, announced her intention to create the Linda Harman Aiken Chair. Aiken’s planned gift supports her 2016 commitment of $1 million to endow the Linda Harman Aiken Professorship at the UF College of Nursing.

Aiken’s gift comes at a time when the nursing profession faces a work environment like no other in history. Most recently, many nurses are experiencing heightened stress due to extreme workloads brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, which can lead to burnout. 

Aiken, Ph.D., FAAN, FRCN, R.N., who conducts research on the health care workforce and quality of health care in the U.S. and around the world, is the author of more than 400 scientific papers and has recently investigated why the nation’s health care infrastructure has struggled during this medical emergency. According to her research, chronic understaffing of hospitals and nursing homes left nurses struggling to adequately care for patients, before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Perhaps surprising to many, the country does not have a national nurse shortage,” Aiken said. “We do, however, have an acute and very troubling shortage of nursing care in hospitals, nursing homes and schools, which is largely due to employers not creating enough budgeted positions and acceptable working conditions for professional nurses. Nurses are not leaving health care in massive numbers —they are changing employers and looking for opportunities to provide better care to patients.”

Without adequate care, patient outcomes suffer, she says. Aiken’s research revealed that high levels of nurse turnover and chronic stress pose a danger to patient safety, since health care systems with this environment struggle to deliver consistent, quality care. This presents a serious threat to public health, especially if it is allowed to persist.

The phenomenon is not new. According to Aiken, nearly half of the country’s nurses experienced some form of burnout, and the majority reported unsafe working conditions in hospitals prior to the pandemic. To ensure adequate levels of nurse staffing in health care, public policies addressing nurse burnout are needed. The basis for such policies and evidence-based solutions can be identified and evaluated by nurse researchers in leadership roles, such as the Linda Harman Aiken Chair.

College of Nursing Dean Anna M. McDaniel, Ph.D., R.N., FAAN, has held the Linda Harman Aiken Professorship since it was created in 2016. Her title now reflects the endowed chair status.

“We are incredibly grateful for Dr. Linda Aiken’s generosity, her support of the college as a proud alumna and her desire to make lasting change in the nursing profession,” McDaniel said. “This gift is a testament to her commitment to shaping the next generation of nurse researchers, and we hope to live up to her exceptional example.”

Crediting the beginning of her three-decade-long career to the mentorship and guidance she received at UF under the leadership of founding Dean Dorothy M. Smith in the 1960s, Aiken, who earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree in 1964 and her Master of Nursing in 1966 from UF, said she hopes her gift will help UF nurse researchers continue to lead the way in developing innovative care practices, impacting public policy for the greater good.

With nursing research now seen as a source of innovation, Aiken also hopes that whoever holds the College of Nursing chair will also be a key player in spearheading universitywide excellence. She said she believes the chair will contribute to expanded nursing outcomes and policy research, strengthening the University of Florida as a health care leader.

“Endowed chairs help make great universities by providing resources in perpetuity for the recruitment and retention of stellar faculty, supporting pathbreaking research and affecting national rankings that help recruit the best and brightest students,” Aiken said. “The College of Nursing has launched many national nurse leaders and clinicians who have changed the face of nursing. I envision that the Linda Harman Aiken Chair will continue that great tradition.”

Media contact: Ken Garcia at kdgarcia@ufl.edu or 352-273-9799