As I write this recognition for Keela Herr, PhD, RN, AGSF, FGSA, FAAN, for being bestowed the 2019 Doris Schwartz Gerontological Nursing Research Award, I am also preparing a syllabus for a course titled NGR: 7709: Crafting the Life of Scholarship, which I will be teaching to PhD students at Florida Atlantic University. The synchronicity of these two activities are serendipitous and synergistic. The Doris Schwartz Gerontological Nursing Research Award is the most distinguished nursing award given by the Gerontological Society of America (GSA), the nation's largest interdisciplinary organization devoted to the field of aging. The award is bestowed to an individual who has achieved an outstanding and sustained contribution to gerontological nursing research. Dr. Herr, Kelting Professor in Nursing and Associate Dean for Faculty at the University of Iowa College of Nursing, received the award during GSA's Annual Scientific Meeting held November 13–17 in Austin, Texas. Being asked to write this recognition is such a gift and honor because Dr. Herr's career trajectory is the essence of what it means to craft a life of scholarship.
In his book, Go Together: How the Concept of Ubuntu Will Change How You Live, Work, and Lean, Shola Richard (2018) explains the South African concept of ubuntu, which means “I am, because we are.” In this transcendent African philosophical tradition, ubuntu represents the power of human connectedness, compassion, kindness, and togetherness. In the 21 years I have known Dr. Herr—as a mentor, colleague, researcher, faculty leader, department chair, scholar, Hartford Center of Geriatric Nursing Excellence and later Barbara and Richard Csomay Center for Gerontological Excellence co-director—I know of no one who embodies the qualities of ubuntu as much as Dr. Herr.
The idea that professional relationships, collaborations, and mentorship are foundational to career success is well established. Few exemplify what it means to be a mentor as well as Dr. Herr. Mentoring is an act of generativity, a process of bringing into existence and becoming, of creating professional legacy. At the core of mentoring, and its essence, are relationships. Relationships are forged intentionally by the mentor, and mentoring relationships are always personal, reciprocal, and dynamic whereby a mentor serves as a teacher, wisdom-giver, guide, coach, guardian, role model, and sponsor to a less experienced person (protégé), distilling protégés with counsel, support, knowledge, and opportunity (Johnson & Ridley, 2004). According to Dr. Herr, “relationships with colleagues (including mentors, peers, and mentees) have always been my motivator and also an inspiration” and “collaborating with other leaders and leaders-to-be has provided immense fulfillment.”
Keela Herr, PhD, RN, AGSF, FGSA, FAANPhoto courtesy of K. Herr
Dr. Herr's high value on building and sustaining relationships and being an outstanding mentor and colleague was fully evident in her acceptance speech for the Doris Schwartz Gerontological Nursing Research Award. Palmer (2017), in The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life, asserts the power of mentors is in their “capacity to awaken a truth within us, a truth we can reclaim years later by recalling their impact on our lives” (p. 22). Dr. Herr stated it is “humbling and rewarding to be recognized with this award, but all my wonderful mentors, collaborators, and mentees share this honor.” In her acceptance presentation, Dr. Herr first gave recognition to Doris Schwartz using quotes from Pam Willard, a faculty colleague at the University of Iowa, who knew Doris Schwartz personally when they were both at Cornell University-New York Hospital School of Nursing, noting Doris Schwartz was a “wonderful teacher and role model” that “cemented her [Pam's] passion for serving.” Despite many invitations to go elsewhere, Dr. Herr chose The University of Iowa as her “academic home and family” because of “the relationships I have had at Iowa and the nurturing and supportive environment, as well as progressive leadership opportunities,” which have “fulfilled my career aspirations.” Dr. Herr gave recognition of the importance of leadership to the four Deans she served with at the University of Iowa College of Nursing in supporting her career development and then gave individual recognition to her early mentors placing emphasis on the importance each had on her growth as a scholar and researcher.
A key idea in the concept of ubuntu is the idea “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” (Richards, 2018, p. xiv). There is little that is meaningful that is done in isolation; success depends on the ability to build relationships and collaborations. Similarly, Cameron (2016), in the Artist's Way, points out “success occurs in clusters” (p. 208). Dr. Herr's contributions to the advancement of gerontological nursing and the assessment and management of pain in older adults demonstrates that relationships are at the core of building a successful program of research. Dr. Herr states that when she was a:
novice researcher and geriatric nurse, the mentors across my career were tremendously important. Many generous nurses and physicians shaped my career path and instilled in me the value and reward of mentoring and provided role models for my own development as a mentor of others.
There are many seminal published works that exemplify Dr. Herr's contribution to the management of pain. Some include: “Assessment and Measurement of Pain in Older Adults” (Herr & Garand, 2001); “Tools for Assessment of Pain in Nonverbal Older Adults With Dementia: A State-of-the-Science Review” (Herr et al., 2006); and “Pain Assessment Strategies in Older Patients” (Herr, 2011). Another key publication was “Pharmacological Management of Persistent Pain in Older Persons,” (American Geriatrics Society [AGS], 2009) when Dr. Herr was a member of the AGS Panel on pain management in older adults.
In a career that already spans more than 30 years, Dr. Herr's program of research focuses on the significant problem of pain assessment and management in older adults. What has continually motivated her is the deep desire and value in making an impact on the care and treatment of older adults with pain.
For Dr. Herr, success and fulfilment has been “all about the people in my life.” In her own words, she notes “although we advise junior faculty to seek and nurture relationships and collaborations, one has to have an inherent interest in others and desire to give to others. Being generous with our time and talents working for a greater cause builds relationships, which lead to other connections and opportunities over time.”
Ubuntu's power of human connectedness, compassion, kindness, and togetherness are themes that have fueled Dr. Herr's life path as a gerontological nurse researcher, leader, scholar, and mentor. Dr. Herr's research has “gone far” in forever improving the treatment of pain in older adults and the path in scholarship she has carved serves as an exemplary model and a source of inspiration for us all.
- American Geriatrics Society Panel on the Pharmacological Management of Persistent Pain in Older Persons. (2009). Pharmacological management of persistent pain in older persons. Pain Medicine, 10(6), 1062–1083 doi:10.1111/j.1526-4637.2009.00699.x [CrossRef]
- Cameron, J. (2016). The artist's way: A spiritual path to higher creativity. Random House.
- Herr, K. (2011). Pain assessment strategies in older patients. Journal of Pain, 12(3 Suppl. 1), S3–S13 doi:10.1016/j.jpain.2010.11.011 [CrossRef]
- Herr, K., Bjoro, K. & Decker, S. (2006). Tools for assessment of pain in nonverbal older adults with dementia: A state-of-the-science review. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, 31(2), 170–192 doi:10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2005.07.001 [CrossRef]
- Herr, K. A. & Garand, L., (2001). Assessment and measurement of pain in older adults. Clinics in Geriatric Medicine, 17(3), 457–478 doi:10.1016/s0749-0690(05)70080-x [CrossRef]
- Johnson, W. B. & Ridley, C. R. (2004). The elements of mentoring.Palgrave Macmillan.
- Palmer, P. J. (2017). The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher's life: 20th anniversary edition. Wiley.
- Richards, S. (2018). Go together: How the concept of Ubuntu will change how you live, work, and lead. Sterling Ethos.