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Time is relative.
A single year can sometimes seem interminable, as most everyone now knows, but in the case of Dr. Sarah Sweitzer, Touro University California’s Provost and Chief Academic Officer, three years can sometimes go by in the blink of an eye.
In most ways, Dr. Sweitzer’s arrival at TUC was the matching of a perfect opportunity with the perfect person to seize it. The Vallejo-native’s background in higher education are all pieces of the TUC puzzle.
“All of the tools in my higher Ed toolbox,” she says, are perfectly suited to TUC’s needs.
Like most long-time Vallejo residents, Dr. Sweitzer’s family has a deep connection with Mare Island’s naval heritage. In fact, coming to the island for work at a university setting is still something of an unusual experience.
However, under Dr. Sweitzer’s guidance, TUC is emerging from its first two decades and ready to transition into what she calls, “The Promise of 2030,” a template to help the university grow and expand over the next decade.
That growth has included growing partnerships, like the one with Drug Safe Solano, and with healthcare partners across the State of California, Solano County Public Health,, local school districts, non-profits like NapaLearns and Fighting Back Partnership and the launch of a residency program with St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Stockton.
Growth and leadership have been cornerstones of Dr. Sweitzer’s tenure at Touro, from the pragmatic steps of improved landscaping, lighting and other beautification projects to help bring Touro from a utilitarian military facility to a more comfortable and student-centered college campus, including adding of a second student fitness center, to measures aimed at inclusion and diversity.
Leadership became abundantly evident when Touro became one of the first universities in the country to take students off campus and transition to a remote setting, likely a credit to Dr. Sweitzer’s background in healthcare higher education, but one she owes more to her focus on student safety.
Dr. Sweitzer herself is one of approximately 50 female university leaders – depending on the source of the counting – which is a number that includes graduate institutions, undergrad schools and community colleges.
Female leadership is at the forefront at Touro, however, thanks to Dr. Sweitzer’s guidance. While she may be at the helm, Touro also benefits from a large number of deans, associate deans, associate vice presidents, division and program directors who are women, as well.
“I feel that the large number of women in leadership positions at Touro University California reflects our commitment to diversity and inclusion on our campus,” Dr. Sweitzer said. “As the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, ‘Women belong in all places where decisions are being made,’ and we at Touro know that we benefit from diverse voices around the leadership table.”
TUC prides itself on its student-centered approach to education and in-progress renovations to Truett Hall, along with the removal of a maintenance building should give TUC a more traditional university feel, with an expansive green-space quad, as well as ample areas within for students to collaborate.
“We’ve always been student-focused, but this will make that even more so,” Dr. Sweitzer said.
The renovations and updates to the campus are part of a continuing process that has helped transform the utilitarian layout of the former military base to one that is more suited for campus life.
This push forward she credits with efforts of those around her.
“There’s an amazing staff and faculty here,” Dr. Sweitzer said. “That’s really been what’s allowed us to ask, ‘how do we take that next step?’ ”
While some changes on campus will improve student access to services and other assistance, one thing Dr. Sweitzer hopes doesn’t change is student access to her as Provost, which she intends to keep high.
“Why else would anyone get involved in higher education if not for the students?” Dr. Sweitzer said. “When you can affect one student, you’re creating a change in them, their families, their communities … there’s no better experience in higher education than that.”
Indeed, as her arrival at Touro seemed to be at the perfect intersection of the right person in the right place at the right time, so too has it been the case when COVID-19 struck – that through Dr. Sweitzer, Touro was the right institution in the right place at the right time.
Touro has been a key partner in the Solano County Mass Vaccination effort to get as many local residents vaccinated as possible, and the volunteerism on display sums up her time at TUC perfectly.
“These MassVax events really are an illustration of years of Touro’s culminated partnerships with our community,” Dr. Sweitzer said. “These most recent three years really have been about growing our partnerships, our students, our faculty and staff out there leading these efforts … we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing. Universities are supposed to be providing this kind of leadership in their communities and serving as anchor institutions”
The Associated Press reported recently that Dr. Kevin O’Connor will serve as the White House physician in the Biden Administration.
Dr. O’Connor, a DO or doctor of osteopathic medicine, replaces the previous White House physician, Dr. Sean Conley, who is also a DO. These two doctors come at the end of a long string of Medical Doctors (MDs) dating back to the Washington Administration serving as White House physicians.
Possibly this signifies a shift of some sort, or perhaps it’s just a coincidence, but what a DO is and how they differ from MDs is, at least, worth exploring.
Student-doctors at Touro University California all hope to graduate and one day become Dos, or Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine. But ‒ what does that mean?
What qualifies as western medicine is broken into two main categories ‒ osteopathic (DO) and allopathic (MD). In practical terms, patients might not even discern the difference in many cases between a DO and an MD.
Medical doctors tend to rely on the types of traditional procedures often depicted in medical dramas on TV ‒ ordering tests, making an evaluation, and treating symptoms with medications of some sort or perhaps even surgery.
Doctors of Osteopathy will utilize these same traditional tools, but are also more inclined to resort to alternative remedies, including Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (OMM), a means of properly aligning the body’s musculoskeletal system.
Practicing DOs will often say the main difference between the two types of doctors is philosophical ‒ with MDs attacking an ailment or disease, whereas DOs look at themselves as treating the patient.
While patients are certainly in good hands under the treatment of either a DO or an MD, DO schools like Touro University California’s College of Osteopathic Medicine are seeing a steady increase in enrollments and the percentage of DOs on the rise in recent years.
For TUCOM faculty members, the reasons for this are clear.
“I became aware of D.O.’s when I worked as a nursing assistant in a 93-bed rural hospital,” said COM Associate Professor Michael Warner. “On my days off . . . I volunteered at work to assist physicians on rounds and scrub-in on surgeries. I was drawn to a few physicians, all D.O.’s, who had a nature that I could not describe. Later, I would recognize their traits as osteopathic distinctiveness.”
“Osteopathic philosophy, which includes hands-on diagnosis and treatment, drew me to the osteopathic profession,” Dr. Warner said. “My dreams of practicing as a D.O. were fulfilled with great joy and satisfaction. They left me with sweet memories of meaningful patient relationships as a family doctor.”
Dr. Jay Shubrook, COM Primary Care Professor, agreed that his choice to pursue a DO path was life-changing.
“When I was trying to figure out my future in college, I knew it would have something to do about health,” Dr. Shubrook said. “I was a psychology major but found a psychology career to be too ‘black box’ish. I was an athlete and looked at physical therapy. This was too focused and limited. Then I looked at medicine. I did not know about osteopathic medicine, so I explored allopathic medicine. However, my exposure was not what I was looking for – it seemed too focused on illness and treatment. I wanted to look at something that had more focus on maintaining health.
“A friend of mine went to an osteopathic school and called me to say I should check it out as it sounds more like I was looking for. Indeed I was pleased that osteopathic medicine was a great fit for me,” Dr. Shubrook concluded.
Perhaps more presidents in the future will choose a DO as a White House physician, if for no other reason than the numbers are on the incline.
The website prospectivedoctor.com shows the number of DO students doctors increasing from around 14,000 in 2007 to more than 30,000 last year.
Niki Hardwick could have retired for good after serving 31 years as an Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) and Registered Nurse (RN) in the Bay Area. She has been a supervising nurse, raised her children, and cared for her mom in the last years of her mom’s life; she could have just taken it easy.
But the Touro University California (TUC) alumna didn’t see it that way.
The youngest of four children, Hardwick had a grandmother who was a nursing assistant at a children’s hospital and a sister who encouraged Hardwick to be an RN. That same sister signed Hardwick up for testing and admission into the City College of San Francisco’s LVN program. Twelve months later at the age of 19, Hardwick started her career in nursing.
The initial goal was to get her LVN and then go back for her RN, but as a 19-year-old with a pretty decent salary, it didn’t seem necessary at the time.
But after becoming a single mother of two, Hardwick realized it was essential that she return to school to fulfill her dreams of getting her RN. It took her seven years to do so. Hardwick would work 12-hour night shifts on weekends at San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH) and attend day classes during the week. In 1999, she completed her Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and became an RN.
She continued to work at SFGH after she married and moved to Solano County. Hardwick shared that her life responsibilities, primarily caring for her mother, in combination with a four-hour commute led to her retiring from SFGH in 2015.
One could stop there. She checked the RN box off her list, and in 2017 went back to work to become the supervising nurse at Solano County Family Health Services, where she manages a large team, conducts evaluations, and keeps on top of medications and supplies. The thought of continuing her education was out of sight, and she didn’t think she could do it because of other life demands.
It wasn’t until a TUC faculty member, Margaret Pay, Assistant Professor at TUC’s School of Nursing, nudged her that she gave it thought. With the kids off at college and caregiver duties gone, Hardwick realized it was time to pursue her career.
Hardwick started her 16-month program at TUC’s ADN to MSN program in 2019.
“I don’t know any program where you can jump from Associates to Masters,” Hardwick said. “To be able to get your master’s, sit for the Clinical Nurse Leader exam, and get your Public Health Nursing certification all in the same program is an amazing thing.”
While juggling her day position at the clinic, Hardwick balanced her schedule by attending evening and weekend classes. It was a busy lifestyle for those months, but it was made a bit easier because of her positive experience at Touro.
“I was successful because of my desire and determination, but also because of the major support of faculty,” she said. “If I emailed my advisor, they would get back to me at any time, even with a call. If I was running out of gas, they’d pump me up. I don’t feel like that’s the norm in most grad schools. You get so much more out of your education here.”
As we all know, the 2020 global outbreak of covid-19 made us all pivot in our work, school, and home lives. And it made a huge impact on Hardwick educationally.
She chose Touro because she wanted in-person learning, as she thought she wouldn’t do well in an online program.
“When classes went virtual, it was a culture shock, and a big learning curve,” Hardwick says, but boasts that the faculty did a great job adjusting. She was also able to fulfill her final clinical project at a shelter across the street from where she worked.
Now post-graduation, Hardwick is looking forward to being back with her staff full time starting in March. She hadn't been as accessible to her staff as she likes to be and is eager to lead them, now with a new degree and more experience.
As for future chapters of Niki’s story, she looks forward to a possible career as a nursing instructor. “[Nursing] is all I’ve ever done and I have a wealth of experience in a variety of areas.
Clinical practices change over time as evidence shows us better ways to do things, but I cling to the words of Maya Angelou which says, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
“There have been many clinical advancements since I entered the field of nursing in 1984, but the one thing that should remain a constant is our passion, dedication, and commitment to caring for others,” Hardwick states. “I wanted my Master’s because I’m an innate teacher; I even teach bible study at church. I like to teach and empower people.”
As COVID-19 has altered the plans for so many events, 5K run events are no exception. Events with masses of people crowded together, running shoulder-to-shoulder for a good cause have been put on hold.
What hasn’t been put on hold is the need for fundraising and the desire to help with worthy causes. Thus, the rise of virtual 5K events – run/walk fundraisers that allow participants to sign up and take part, recording the distance on their own, away from crowds of others.
Touro University California’s Gold Humanism Honor Society has jumped onto this trend in an effort to help raise awareness and funding for Vallejo-based Fighting Back Partnership.
Fighting Back Partnership helps improve the lives of families in need who face issues like poverty, food insecurity, wage disparity and lower access to education, event planners said.
The values and goals for Fighting Back Partnership are closely aligned with GHHS, an organization that supports, as its main goal, humanism in medicine.
Event planners are hoping COVID has actually created an opportunity, not a limitation. Traditional 5K run events are at a specific location and at a specific time. With this online format, runners from across the country could sign up and participate in a way that’s more convenient to them.
“We would hope to have more people sign up, hopefully encouraging their families and friends to participate, since the race is virtual,” said TUC student-doctor and one of the event planners Angela Martey. “The 5K is over the course of a week. We think it would create a flexible schedule for people to participate.”
Interested participants can learn more and register at: https://runsignup.com/Race/CA/Vallejo/Touro5K?remMeAttempt=&fbclid=IwAR2gi4RXrLqrfvePJLPb2DOCgaLRmPehbNF2wiouNKFfDFwSULBZfPA0qeU.
While vaccination levels against COVID-19 continue to increase, the risk to student, staff and faculty health remained too high for coordinators of the annual Touro University California/Touro University Nevada basketball game to carry on as usual this year.
While neither school has a traditional athletics department, the two met annual for a volleyball match in the fall and a basketball game in the spring – each contest being cancelled last year due to COVID restrictions.
Planners are hopeful the volleyball match will be able to resume as scheduled in the fall, if COVID conditions nationwide continue to improve. If so, it is very likely the basketball game will return in 2022.
If this schedule holds to form, TUN will host the volleyball match in the fall and TUC will play host to the basketball game in the spring.
The fall seems to be a prevailing point in time for many sports activities to “return to normal.” Many NCAA sports teams have allowed small percentages of venue capacities in to cheer for the local team, but the University of Alabama recently announced plans to return in the fall to full capacity at Bryant-Denny Stadium, the school’s football stadium.
Passover is observed for eight days – this year falling from March 27 through April 4.
The holiday marks the exodus of Jewish people from Egypt, with focus on the emancipation of the Jews from slavery under the Egyptians.
This emancipation is observed during the first two nights of Passover through Seder, a celebratory meal that includes four cups of wine, eating matza and bitter herbs, and retelling the story of the Exodus.
Touro University California’s Rabbi Elchonon Tenenbaum says the retelling of the tale isn’t meant as a mere formality.
“It has often been emphasized that a remembrance in Torah, as in Jewish life in general, is not meant for the purpose of merely recalling an important event, and the like; but the real purpose of it is to learn from the event that happened in the past,” Rabbi Tenenbaum said. “To learn, especially, specific practical lessons for today and tomorrow,” is the most important element.
The holiday is really one of the value of faith, as the Jews of the time fled to the foreboding wilderness, guided by divine messaging, and it was trust in this belief that ultimately guided the group to safety. During these uncertain times, each of us will find strength in the belief of better times to come.
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