AT THE FOREFRONT OF NURSING
Jeanne Bowden's 25-year career has been a labor of love fueled by a passion for service. After 14 years of teaching for the OHSU School of Nursing at Eastern Oregon University, Bowden, who thought to retire nearly two years ago, was appointed associate dean in 1995. She succeeded Marsha Short, who originally hired Bowden as an instructor in 1981 for the then- fledgling Eastern Oregon satellite campus of OHSU in Portland.
"I had the best boss. Actually, she was much more than a boss Â— she was a friend and a mentor," Bowden recalls.
Bowden marvels, looking back on a quarter of a century that, in hindsight, now seems fleeting. She has few regrets.
"Maybe I would have tried a little harder on a couple of relationships," she says.
Nor does she have any qualms about passing the torch to someone new, although she delayed her retirement until a replacement was named. She has overseen plenty of changes for the school during her tenure, and anticipates an exciting future.
"The program is ready for change, especially in the areas of cutting-edge technologies. But I am not the person to lead that," says Bowden, who just plans to take life easy once she retires.
From a beautiful office in the new science center, Bowden allows her thoughts to follow her gaze through the picture window, across campus and back in time.
"It was just this little school," she recalls. "Who would have thought we'd someday have clinical practice, research, teaching staff with Ph.D.s Â— and this new state-of-the-art facility with the (simulation) and research labs," Bowden says, softly shaking her head in wonder.
When she was hired in 1981, the former Peace Corps volunteer was newly single with a 3-year-old to care for and another baby on the way, but overdue. Bowden still made it in time for the start of classes Â— moving from Sandy with a toddler in one hand and a two-week-old baby on her hip.
Dean Short compassionately arranged Bowden's teaching schedule around little Hillary's pickup and drop-off times at day-care. The baby, Haley, Bowden took with her to school, pushing the buggy into the office, where two secretaries would watch Haley while Bowden taught classes.
"They wanted to do it. Everybody watched out for each other, just like a family," she says.
At that time, the OHSU campus consisted of six offices in Zabel Hall and a very tenuous budget.
"All the budgets were done by hand in those days, in those big ledger books. We had no computers. It was so different. I remember when the program got the first computers, then e-mail and Ed-Net," she says.
With each upgrade, Dean Short became more excited, while Bowden became more insecure.
"I am not a technology person," she admits with a laugh.
The nursing program eventually moved to Hunt Hall where it could spread out on the third floor and down into the basement with more offices and classrooms. In May 2004, OHSU moved into Eastern Oregon University's new state-of-the-art science center complete with video-stream conferencing, a simulation teaching lab, a research lab and a curriculum with multiple degree programs.
"None of this is about me, though. We did this together. We've always been a team here. Somebody has an idea, we kick it around. We have to figure out how to make it work and how to fund it. Like Nancy Findholt's Healthy Network for Rural Schools program," she offers as an example.
That program is one of many ways OHSU has worked to become indispensable in serving the local communities, Bowden says, although new programs were never about making ideas fit into the community. If anything, Bowden says the programs and clinics evolved out of identifying needs within the community and designing projects to fill those needs.
"You have to do things for the right reasons. The heart has to be in it. A project will only be sustainable if the community is behind it," she says.
For her part, Nancy Findholt also believes part of the secret to the success of local OHSU programs like the rural schools network is Bowden's passion for the underdog.
"The primary thing that is important about Jeanne is that she has always been an advocate for the less powerful. Whether it's those who struggle to afford health care, or nursing students themselves who are struggling financially or personally. Advocacy is Jeanne's passion. It's her gift," Findholt says.
Bowden's encouragement has also extended itself to new faculty throughout the broader OHSU system, particularly in toughly competitive Portland, Findholt says.
"Sometimes when you're new, it's hard to know where to go and who to talk to," she explains.
Bowden has always been open to guiding new faculty in building a network of support. That generosity of spirit has also been a benefit to Bowden's staff in La Grande as she has fostered a creative and open working environment, Findholt says.
"She has always respected the strengths of those who work for her. She never meddled in the details, trusting that each one would teach best in the manner with which they were most comfortable," Findholt says.
Under Bowden's advocacy, programs like the Elgin and Union family health centers, the Student Health Center on the EOU campus, the Healthy Start program for new babies and the Rural Frontier Delivery Program were born. The Rural Frontier program holds a special place in Bowden's affections.
The distance education concept began in 1992 as a bloom-where-you-grow opportunity for place-bound students across rural Eastern Oregon to earn a four-year nursing degree while living and practicing in their own small communities. It is a win-win program, offering educational opportunities for remote areas while providing much needed health care.
When funding for the program initially ran out, OHSU Portland planned to cancel the program. But Bowden would have none of that.
"I didn't ask them if we could keep the program going if we found alternative funding. We just went to work on finding a way at keeping it going. Eastern graciously offered to support it, so we went forward. The university has been a wonderful partner. It was a little sticky at first, but Portland just had to get used to it," she says. And out of 45 students in the nursing program who will be seniors next year, 20 of them are in the Rural Frontier program, Bowden says proudly.
"That's 20 dedicated nurses already in place for the future of health care in communities like John Day and Burns," she says.
Her defense of the program, however, earned her a reputation as a maverick in Portland, she says.
When asked if that self-assessment is accurate, OHSU Vice President Kathleen Potempa delightedly laughs out loud.
"Perhaps, but in every good sense of the word," she says.
Potempa has been with OHSU in Portland since 1996, and serves as vice dean of the nursing school. She's worked hand in hand with Bowden for nearly a decade.
"One of the many great things about Jeanne is that she is very grounded in the rural community, and yet she is well respected nationally. She has been very visible in her role here. She's very well known and because of that, so is the program here in La Grande. Jeanne's a forward thinker, and because she is not compelled to the present because of the past, she sees the big picture," Potempa says.
Surprisingly, all of that vision and energy is packed into the seemingly fragile frame of a soft-spoken woman who guided a small, rural nursing program to national recognition.
With a few simple words, Bowden wraps up the past 25 years in a tidy Â— but telling Â— little package.
"I love this community. I love the school. It's always been about helping. We always felt that if we were doing a good job, then it would all continue."