Meet Dr. Lassetter, the New BYU College of Nursing Dean

The following article comes from the 2020 fall college alumni magazine.

By Jeff L. Peery

Dr. Jane Hansen Lassetter (AS ’81, BS ’98, MS ’01) PhD, RN, FAAN, has been named the new dean of the College of Nursing at Brigham Young University and began her five-year term in July.

Her contributions include regional and international leadership, and promotion of cultural sensitivity and improved health for underserved populations often overlooked in healthcare policy and research. She currently serves as the president of the Western Institute of Nursing and past-president of the International Family Nursing Association.

Lassetter received a doctor of philosophy degree from Oregon Health and Science University in 2008 and a graduate certificate in healthcare ethics from Creighton University in 2016. She received her baccalaureate and master’s degrees in nursing from BYU.

She replaced Dr. Patricia Ravert (AS ’74, BS ’75, MS ’94), who served as dean since 2012 and recently retired.

Professor Dr. Beth Luthy (MS ’05) was named as the associate dean of graduate studies and evidence-based practice. Associate professor Dr. Julie L. Valentine has been named as the new associate dean of undergraduate studies and research. Assistant dean Kathy A. Whitenight remains in her current position and oversees resource management for the college.

Recognized for her commitment to nursing leadership and the promotion of the public’s health through evidence and innovation, Lassetter was inducted as a 2019 Fellow in the American Academy of Nursing (FAAN). She is among 2,600 nurse leaders in education, management, practice, policy, and research who have changed health and healthcare across the country and around the globe.

For the past three years, she has served as the college’s associate dean of graduate studies, scholarly works, and contribution to the discipline. She has also served on the university graduate council, the university faculty development council, and the university research council.

In addition to her leadership positions, Dr. Lassetter is an active researcher and educator. She was honored with BYU’s Muriel Thole Teaching and Learning Faculty Fellowship in 2016 and received the university’s Alcuin Fellowship in general education in 2011.

It was on a family vacation that Lassetter first fell in love with the people she would spend years studying and serving.

“When I was 11, my family went to Hawaii,” says Lassetter. “I loved being around the people and their culture. It is such a giving, loving culture, and I really respected that. I have always felt drawn to Hawaii and the South Pacific because the people are so Christlike; they are such generous, good people. During my graduate studies, I began to understand the health disparities Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders face.”

Her research interests include obesity prevention in Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander families and children of all ethnicities. In Utah, Nevada, and Hawaii, she has studied the effects of migration on these populations, their personal and cultural expectations for children’s body size and shape, the role of food in their overall well-being, and the relationships between their health literacy, body mass index, and demographic characteristics.

In the past two years, she collaborated with Audrey J. Simpson (MS ’20), studying the role of traditional foods on Jamaican immigrants’ perceptions of health and well-being. She also studied effective international disaster relief teams with Nicolette “Nicki” Broby (MS ’17).

From 2005 to 2008, she shared her passion as she led groups of nursing students in the Hawaii section of the clinical practicum for the public and global health nursing course each spring. Their experiences included visiting the site of a historic leper colony on Molokai, observing and learning from a Hawaiian healer, and assessing children at a Hawaiian-language immersion preschool. More recently, she has accompanied students to Tonga and to the Czech Republic.

Lassetter joined the faculty at BYU in 2002 as an instructor. She became an assistant professor in 2004, an associate professor in 2010, and a professor in 2016.

Her service and community leadership are just as impressive as the professional experience. As president of the Western Institute of Nursing (WIN), she leads the organization in improving health through unique solutions. Her interest in the organization stems from its high standards of professionalism and its dedication to unifying nurses across practice, education, and research. “I like the feel of the organization,” Lassetter says. “There’s a great sense of camaraderie among the nurses in the region.”

This camaraderie is reflected in WIN’s recently updated mission statement, “Connecting a diverse community of nurses in the West to improve health through excellence in research, practice, and education,” and the new vision statement, “One day, all people will have the opportunity to achieve their best health and wellbeing.”

She was inducted as a member of WIN’s Western Academy of Nurses in 2015.

This sense of community is especially valuable to her. “Serving in leadership positions has made me realize the potential of what nurses can do if they get organized,” Lassetter says. “Nurses are the nation’s largest group of healthcare professionals and truly can make important things happen within healthcare.”

As a caregiver, she recognizes that families are vital to health and well-being and that there is a need for nurses to include the whole family in care. This is highlighted during the current COVID-19 pandemic as patients have been separated from their families and many nurses have stepped up to include families as much as possible.

During her recent tenure as president of the International Family Nursing Association (IFNA), Dr. Lassetter advanced family nursing through leading extraordinary international conferences in Denmark, Spain, and Washington, DC.

“The only other nurse in my family is Great-Grandma Emelia Jensen, who immigrated to Newton, Utah, from Denmark after joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In 1891, her bishop asked her to move to Salt Lake City and study obstetrics and nursing. Her daughter, [Lassetter’s grandma Hansen], reported that her mom cared for more than 1,000 ‘confinement’ patients over her career,” says Lassetter. “Great-Grandma Jensen passed away several decades before I was born, but I think of her and her legacy often. It was such a joy to host an IFNA conference in her homeland and feel a connection to my ancestors as an international group of family nurses shared research to help improve family health.”

For the past six years, she has served on the Intermountain Healthcare Bioethics Consultation Service, which meets monthly to review ethical concerns facing the organization, healthcare providers, patients, and families.

Serving as the college’s ethics in nursing course coordinator since 2009, Lassetter mentors students in her ethics classes by helping them navigate ethically complex decisions and build their ethical toolkit. “Knowing how to identify ethical dilemmas and use ethical principles and theories to make decisions can help prevent nurse burnout,” she says.

Besides watching the growth that occurs in the classroom, Dr. Lassetter values mentoring and having one-on-one discussions as well. For the past 11 years, she has counseled 22 graduate students as their master’s thesis chair or as a committee member.

One thing she wants to continue as the dean is supporting mentored-learning experiences with nursing students outside of the classroom environment. For example, 209 undergraduate and graduate students had experiential learning opportunities during the last academic year such as participating in research projects, coauthoring papers with faculty, giving podium presentations, or coauthoring a poster. The year before, 156 students had such opportunities.

“One of my goals for the graduate program is to continue expanding students’ rural healthcare experiences,” says Lassetter. “Nationwide, there is a shortage of primary care healthcare providers (including family nurse practitioners), more so in rural areas.” By providing rural clinical experiences, she hopes some graduates will choose to practice in rural settings.

Before being appointed dean, Lassetter, in conjunction with graduate program coordinator Dr. Beth M. Luthy (MS ’05), received a $15,000 grant from the university’s office of graduate studies to fund student travel (mileage, hotel stays, and meals) to create such opportunities in rural clinical sites.

The result was that nine of the 15 graduate students preparing for graduation in 2020 had opportunities in rural placements such as in Moab, Utah (population 5,300). In many urban settings, patients are referred to specialists, whereas in rural settings, there are few if any specialists with whom to consult. Students learned to manage the healthcare needs of patients with various and complex health disorders.

When it comes to relaxing and enjoying the beauty in her life, two things come to mind. First, Lassetter’s six grandchildren top the list. Whether it is outdoors, traveling (a favorite pre-coronavirus location was Disney World), or playing games together, being a grandmother is truly rewarding (although her sons and daughters may argue that being a mother is important).

Second, gardening and enjoying the fragrances of the yard are a must. For Lassetter, growing flowers is a delight, and she loves to attract hummingbirds. Despite the abundance of colors and plant styles, she keeps five feeders stocked with homemade nectar as a way to create a hummingbird-friendly yard.

As for future endeavors for the BYU College of Nursing, Lassetter is committed to further improving its best qualities.

“While BYU College of Nursing has phenomenal nursing programs, my goal is for our programs to improve continuously as students, alumni, staff, and faculty support one another and more fully integrate the Healer’s art.”

Her objectives include promoting externally funded interdisciplinary research and evidence-based practice projects that capture the attention of nursing students as they work alongside faculty to improve the health and well-being of patients, families, and communities.

“As we mentor students in the Healer’s art, I hope we can help them more fully understand that they are representing the Savior’s hands,” says Lassetter.

Service is already a focus of the College of Nursing, as reflected in its values and current service-learning activities among a variety of cultures. However, she believes the importance of service could be elevated as the college’s programs focus on it with even greater intentionality.

One possibility might be to explore potential collaborations with Latter-day Saint Charities as well as other worthy service organizations. Such partnerships would help faculty and students become more actively engaged in the humanitarian work of the Church and the community as they live gospel truths by lending their unique and essential skills to relieve the suffering of those in need, just as the Savior would do if He were here.

“As we mentor students while they put their knowledge into action,” Lassetter says, “We can all more fully become nurse disciples of the Savior.”

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