Kathryn McKnight, MSN, MPH, RN

Assistant Professor of Nursing

"Nursing is a discipline that is held accountable to the public for the safety of patients. We have a big responsibility."

How to succeed

"Making the situation as real as possible – but in a safe lab environment where students can make mistakes – helps nurses get more confidence for the future."

As a hands-on kind of nurse who transitioned into teaching, Kathryn McKnight helps St. Ambrose students strike the right balance. Her courses emphasize providing quality care to individuals while understanding the big-picture challenges-and potential impact-of nursing.

In her own words

You teach Community Health. What's the goal of your course?

We're looking at vulnerable populations and making a community health assessment. In the classroom portion, we look at the resources available. For example, you might be a single mother with bipolar disease. You have two children: one is an infant with spina bifida, and one is a six-year-old with another health issue. So what happens when you need to go get on the bus? How do you pay your bills? How do you do these things with children in tow? We figure this out.

How do the students get to know the community?

They do some wonderful things. They interview people in the community-in the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program or at the women's center in Davenport-to see what resources are available for a family. For students who have grown up in rural Iowa or Illinois, they haven't seen what a complex community like the Quad Cities looks like. They might go to a soup kitchen to work for a couple of hours, and then they have little epiphanies. The "a-ha" moments come when students say things like, "This is what the world is like. It's different than I thought."

Why should students choose a nursing program within a liberal arts institution like St. Ambrose?

The liberal arts foundation is about looking at the broader view and about learning, reasoning and thinking at a different level. Being exposed to other disciplines-biology, English, sociology- broadens our nurses' foundation and improves their communication. They see the world differently. In a practice-based discipline like nursing, we run the risk of being technicians only. But knowing the techniques alone doesn't make the best nurse. You need to think, to be present, to communicate-and that takes an understanding of history, communications and English.

At St. Ambrose, the different health care disciplines work together. Why is that an advantage?

When I think back, as an undergrad I had very little knowledge of the other health care fields. I realize now that patients need the care of many health disciplines in an integrated team approach. You need to use the right language to talk with these other disciplines.

What does St. Ambrose's new Center for Health Sciences Education offer nursing students?

Our labs are amazing. We have the ability to simulate a hospital setting, an emergency department setting and acute care settings that let someone suction a mannequin or insert an IV. Our mannequins can talk, breathe and even moan. Making the situation as real as possible-but in a safe environment where students can make mistakes without causing damage-helps our future nurses gain more confidence.

Is a nurse educator different from a typical college professor?

I think so. Nursing is a discipline that is held accountable not only for teaching theory, but also for guiding practice. We are accountable to the public for the safety of patients. We have a big responsibility.

What's your nursing philosophy?

A nurse's role is not just to take care of patients; it's to empower patients or clients. It is to care for people and also to teach people how to care for themselves. It's to care enough about yourself, and also your profession, to do your absolute best.