Faculty of Nursing a hub for the academic leaders of tomorrow

Tight-knit community, career development and global reputation for top-notch education and research draw future nursing leaders from all over the world.

Sasha Roeder Mah - 06 May 2022

When Diane Kunyk graduated from the University of Alberta’s nursing school in 1978, she already had dreams of returning to school someday. But life—and a solid and satisfying nursing career that provided her with fascinating opportunities, including time working in the Australian outback—got in the way. It wasn’t until decades later that she returned to the U of A to attain a master’s of nursing, in 2002, and a PhD, in 2011. 


I was at a point where I wanted to be inspired by learning, be able to contribute to nursing differently, and at a different level of impact,” recalls Kunyk, who is today certainly making an impact as the acting dean in her alma mater’s Faculty of Nursing.

Acting as dean throughout the pandemic, Kunyk says the need for strong, capable and compassionate nursing leaders has never been greater. And as the top nursing school in the nation—and ninth in the world according to the QS World University Rankings by Subject—the U of A is responding to that need by drawing the next generation of talented nursing academics from around the world. Here, thanks to the depth of research at all levels in the faculty, up-and-coming leaders receive the mentorship they need to bring forward solutions to some of society’s most pressing health challenges.

“What makes this a great faculty for academics interested in pursuing leadership roles is the support, culture of excellence, and sense of community within the faculty,” says Kunyk. “We support the development of leadership academics across the trajectory of their careers. New faculty are mentored through the tenure process, supported to excel in research and in teaching and encouraged to take on increasingly challenging leadership roles.”

Kunyk herself experienced that supportive environment throughout all three of her nursing degrees. She remembers feeling continuously motivated to reach further at each point along the way. “Within each program, there was preparation for the next level of leadership, and encouragement to continue to learn,” she says, adding that being immersed in the research-intensive environment, surrounded by outstanding international scholars, inspired her to thrive and excel.

As a past faculty member and academic lead, Solina Richter agrees. Dean of nursing at the University of Saskatchewan since August 2021, Richter began her career at the U of A as an assistant professor in 2003 and a postdoctoral fellow with the interdisciplinary Health Sciences Council in 2005, moving through the ranks to become a professor and eventual associate dean of global health. solina2-1.jpg

“The environment in the Faculty of Nursing supported my ability to succeed as a leader,” says Richter, whether that meant participating in faculty and university committee activities as member or chair, exposure to a diverse community of faculty members and students, or the opportunity to develop global connections. “While there, I was able to expand on the global perspective I cultivated during my graduate studies, embrace different cultural perspectives and develop practices that focus on social justice and health equity.” 

In her new role in Saskatoon, Richter finds great joy in providing the same kind of strong foundation for her community of learners that helped her thrive at the U of A. “What I love most these days about being an academic leader is mentoring students to take on roles in their respective countries and carry forward the important work in the communities they serve,” she says.  

meet-greta-cummings-1riwcxw4gabva9xrenmfuuw-2.jpegGreta Cummings, former dean in the faculty and interim dean in the College of Health Sciences, obtained her PhD at the U of A. She has always appreciated not only the academic rigours of the program, but also its focus on faculty and student well-being. “The Faculty of Nursing is a community that both strives for excellence and encourages people to live full lives,” she says. “We want our people to not just succeed but to find meaning in and beyond their work. This well-rounded approach–excellence, coupled with the opportunity for balance–is an exceptional formula for building leaders.” 

Nursing itself is a busy and demanding profession, often with long hours amid stressful circumstances. But it can be deeply satisfying and meaningful to balance that clinical work with the pursuit of graduate studies, say Cummings and Kunyk. “Further education supports a nurse’s growth as a scholar and opens up opportunities to be a change agent in the clinical setting,” says Kunyk. 

Adds Cummings, “Clinical practice and advanced education exist in a symbiotic relationship: both enhance one another. Our academic work informs better, evidence-based practice, and our practice makes our academic pursuits more attuned to the field, to communities, and to what matters. Both provide immense value, particularly when they act in harmony.” 

Many of the nursing academic leaders across Western Canada have their roots at the U of A, says Kunyk, a perfect illustration of how this faculty supports and encourages leadership excellence. 

“A graduate education will take you anywhere you want to go,” says Cummings. “The possibilities are endless.”  

Along with Richter at the University of Saskatchewan, here are a few more friends of the Faculty of Nursing who are now making a difference as academic leaders across Western Canada:

  • Vera Caine, ’98 BScN, ’02 MNurs, ’07 PhD: former professor; new director as of May 1 at the University of Victoria’s School of Nursing
  • Alex Clark: former professor; currently dean of the Faculty of Health Disciplines at Athabasca University
  • Sandra Davidson: former professor; current dean in the Faculty of Nursing, University of Calgary 
  • Christy Raymond, ’96 BScN, ’03 MEd, ’14 PhD: former professor and associate dean of undergraduate programs; current dean of the Faculty of Nursing, MacEwan University

The University of Alberta is the top institution in Canada for nursing and ranked ninth worldwide according to the latest QS World University Rankings by Subject. Our world-leading faculty lead cutting-edge work that's changing the face of global health.  Learn more: https://www.ualberta.ca/nursing/careers/joining-us.html