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ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT: A Lasting Impact

Sandra Hittman

When you listen to Sandra Hittman (BSN ’71, MA ’73), it becomes clear that she was greatly influenced by her time at the University of Iowa College of Nursing. This educational experience at Iowa created a strong foundation that has served her well throughout her professional career … even now as she enters into retirement.

Hittman, who was a classmate of one of the college’s well known alums, professor emeritus Kitty Buckwalter, is a very industrious and business savvy individual. She recently took time to talk about her educational experience at UI, why she initially went into nursing, as well as how she remains involved in health care today.

When (and why) did you decide to enter the nursing profession?
I decided to go into nursing in the middle of my freshman year of college. I was at a small liberal arts school in the Midwest at the time. I decided to go into nursing because I wanted to make a difference and thought a “practical” degree like one in nursing, made the most sense.

Why did you choose the University of Iowa for your education? 
The experimental program of allowing students to complete two years of college courses and transfer to the university for a compressed summer program of nursing fundamentals was starting the summer after my sophomore year. I transferred to Iowa in the fall of 1968. After taking prerequisite science courses, I was accepted into the summer fundamentals program the following summer. I soon met Laura Dustin, who was Dean of the College of Nursing at the time, and was impressed with her vision for nursing at Iowa.

What do you remember most about your time as a UI College of Nursing student? 
I remember making terrific friends; some very interesting faculty; the old Westlawn complex where our classes were held; and student unrest generated by the Vietnam War. I was on campus during the Kent State Riots and experienced the resulting militarization of the Iowa Campus. I remember National Guard troops, helicopters overhead and more police cars/national guard and machine guns than I thought I’d ever see in Iowa City. 

Was there a particular class or instructor that stood out?
I have strong, positive memories of Dean Dustin. In addition, I remember Ada Jacox, Hope Solomon, Etta Rasmussen, Eva Erickson, Florence Schmidt (cannot remember her name at the time), Karlene Kerfoot, and Anna Overland … just to name a few. There were a lot of famous and impressive women on-hand who made a difference in nursing.

Did you know back then what you wanted to do with your degree?
I wanted to be in Psychiatric Nursing because at that time, it was one of the most independent areas of nursing. 

How has this changed over time? 
I was involved in nursing at a critical time in psychiatric care during the onset of Diagnostic Related Groups (DRGs) and the reactionary explosion of costs for psychiatric care in the United States. After having worked at the Veterans Hospital System and for nine years at a community mental health center, I moved into the nascent area of managed behavioral health care. I held roles in all areas of this new for-profit business—from writing quality management plans, to sales and marketing, to general manager of one of the largest national organizations in the industry of managed behavioral health.

How did your educational experiences at UI enhance your preparations for entering the profession?
The logical, sequential and innovative approach to nursing and nursing education at the University of Iowa was a significant influence in my life. My experience in nursing research as an undergraduate and graduate student, as well as what I learned from the undergraduate nursing administration course taught by Laura Dustin are essential components of what I do and how I think today.

What words of advice would you give to current for future nursing students?
Understand why you do what you do in nursing. Challenge assumptions (yours and others’) as well as any hurdles that might limit your ability to help your patients/clients. Be rational, logical and fact based, even if you start your destiny with emotion. Understand how you will be compensated and understand the health care delivery system. Don’t assume that doing good deeds and being a good nurse is enough. 

What do you believe has changed the most for nursing professionals over the years?
I think professional nursing has lost its unique position and identity in the health care continuum.  When I am greeted in health plans, hospitals, managed care organizations and other settings I don’t know who is a professional nurse, who is an LPN and who is just a staff person wearing a white coat. Many of my peers in business prefer not to identify themselves as nurses because they think it limits what others perceive they can do. 

What professional endeavors are you currently involved in?
I always identify myself as a nurse, and also as a business professional. I am not involved in any professional nursing organizations but I am involved in consulting with numerous health care organizations and businesses. My consulting is focused on strategic planning, product development and conducting preliminary assessments of companies that are acquisition targets.

What’s next (personally or professionally) for Sandy Hittman?
I am semi-retired. Next steps for me include expanding an understanding of how Myers Briggs Type may impact an individual’s approach to stress reduction and mindfulness.

Also, I remember one of my science professors at UI, anatomy professor, Dolly Dawson, saying “You must know 70% of anatomy to pass this course. I am getting older and I don’t want anybody taking care of me in the future, who doesn’t know at least 70% of human anatomy.” That said, I am interested in continuing to fund University of Iowa College of Nursing efforts in gerontological nursing; after all, I may eventually need nurses in my life, and I’d prefer to be in the care of those who have had excellent preparation!

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Posted On: 
Nov 7th, 2012