You can always breathe easier when Linda Sarna is around.
That’s because her work to stop tobacco use as a nurse, researcher and advocate has helped people all over the world.
But beyond her international role in the battle against smoking, Sarna is taking the lead on this campus in another arena — shared governance — when she assumes the mantle of chair of the UCLA Academic Senate for 2012-13. She is the 68th Senate chair and the first nurse to hold that position.
A true product of the UC system, Sarna received both her bachelor’s degree in nursing (her favorite courses were Shakespeare and art history) and her master’s degree in oncology nursing from UCLA. At the time, she was interested in pursuing her doctorate, so she stayed in the system and commuted every week from Los Angeles to UC San Francisco, where she obtained her doctorate in nursing science.
At a time when the campus is focused on maintaining academic excellence in the face of dwindling resources, Sarna realizes the task ahead of her will be challenging, but she’s ready.
"This is when you want to step up — when times are tough." She feels she’s well-prepared for this role. "Being a nurse is great preparation because we deal with a wide range of personalities in difficult situations." And, fortunately, she has had great mentorship from the Senate leadership team, too.
There are so many important issues that faculty will be discussing during this academic year — from new ways to teach, utilizing online and blended methods, to finding the best ways to support academic excellence through entrepreneurial opportunities.
"We have a real chance to collectively solve problems and continue the tradition of UCLA as one of the top public universities in the world. The faculty are key to these solutions. I want us to have good discourse, but, at the same time, keep moving forward and embrace change. Shared governance is our tradition but that doesn’t mean we all share the same opinion. I subscribe to the mantra, ‘Don’t let perfect get in the way of good.’
"During the 1990s, when budget cuts severely impacted the School of Nursing, it was a turning point for our faculty and me personally. We weathered the storm, developed innovative programs and grew our research enterprise. We are stronger and more successful because of those actions."
Sarna sees the Senate’s relationship with students during these times as critical as well. "It is an important alliance — we both have a shared interest in maintaining the highest quality of education." To this end, Sarna has already opened up new channels for ongoing dialogue with student leadership.
Sarna started her career as an oncology nurse and spent the first part of her career focused on alleviating the suffering as well as enhancing the quality of life of people with lung cancer. Now she’s concentrating on the prevention of lung cancer and other tobacco-related diseases through leadership, research, policy and education.
She was the principal investigator for the Tobacco Free Nurses Initiative, a project aimed at helping nurses to stop smoking and, in turn, assisting them in teaching their own patients to quit as well. "Because there are nearly 3 million nurses in the United States, they are an extraordinary human resource and can provide support, education and counseling — all the things necessary to help patients stop smoking.
In 2009, Sarna was co-editor of the Annual Review of Nursing Research, which focused exclusively on tobacco control. It became one of her proudest achievements because, she said, that while tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, it still has not received the attention it deserves from many scientists, including nurse scientists.
Sarna has now expanded her role to assisting nurses in China, the Czech Republic and Poland to help their patients give up tobacco dependence.
"China has a huge population of smokers — about 300 million — and almost all of them are men. And the doctors are heavy smokers too. But the nurses aren’t. So we have created a collaboration with over 2,000 nurses to educate them to help smokers quit. In the Czech Republic and Poland, smoking among nurses is a barrier to their interventions with patients."
She’s not ignoring tobacco use in her own backyard.
Sarna is chair of the steering body of the UCLA Tobacco-Free Policy committee, a campuswide task force developing strategies for implementing a ban on smoking and tobacco use on the entire campus by 2014. "Last year the health science campus went smoke-free to great success, so we’re hoping for a smooth transition when the entire campus goes tobacco-free."
So take a deep breath. For the times, they are a-changin’.