Laurie Lauzon Clabo, Ph.D., dean of the College of Nursing, on her role in steering WSU through the COVID-19 pandemic

Laurie Lauzon Clabo, Ph.D., dean of the College of Nursing, on her role in steering WSU through the COVID-19 pandemic

Show notes

Episode Notes Laurie Lauzon Clabo, Ph.D., dean of the College of Nursing and chief health and wellness officer, joins Today@Wayne podcast host Darrell Dawsey to discuss her efforts to help steer the university through the COVID-19 outbreak. In this conversation, she also shares how the pandemic is reshaping public health and education for the future.

About Laurie Lauzon Clabo was appointed the eighth dean of the College of Nursing at Wayne State University in April 2015. Dean Clabo has a strong background in academic leadership, including 10 years of experience as a dean. From August 2020 until July 2021, she served as Wayne State’s interim provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.

Dean Clabo is a nationally recognized expert in nursing education with a proven record of leadership. An alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Executive Nurse Fellows program and the AACN-Wharton Executive Leadership Program, she has served in a variety of leadership roles in professional organizations. Dean Clabo is a member of a number of editorial boards and a frequent national speaker on issues related to workforce development, interprofessional education and competency-based education. She is also a fellow of the American Academy of Nursing.

Additional resources Read Dean Clabo’s full biography ( Follow Dean Clabo on Twitter ( Follow Dean Clabo on Facebook ( Selected publications:

  • o Giddens, J., Lauzon Clabo, L. M., Gonce-Morton, P. Jeffries, P., McQuade-Jones, B., & Ryan, S. (2014). Re-envisioning clinical education for nurse practitioner programs: Themes from a national leaders’ dialogue. Journal of Professional Nursing. 30(3), 273-278.
  • o Papp, K., Huang, G.C., Lauzon Clabo, L.M., Delva, D., Fischer, M., Konopasek, L., Schwartzstein, R., & Gusic, M. (2014). Milestones of critical thinking: A developmental model for medicine and nursing. Academic Medicine. 89(5), 1-6.
  • o Lauzon Clabo, L.M., Giddens, J., Jeffries, P., McQuade-Jones, B., Morton, P., & Ryan, S. (2012). A perfect storm: A window of opportunity for revolution in nurse practitioner education. Journal of Nursing Education. 51(10), 539-541.


Announcer: Welcome to Today@Wayne, a podcast that engages and informs the Wayne State University campus community. With news, announcements, information and current event discussions relevant to the university’s goals and mission, Today@Wayne serves as the perfect forum for our campus to begin a conversation or keep one going. Thanks for joining us.

Darrell Dawsey: Welcome to the Today@Wayne podcast. I’m Darrell Dawsey. As we draw closer to the fall semester and the likely return of faculty, staff and students to campus, many of us also find ourselves taking inventory in the past year — and not just in terms of the toll the coronavirus pandemic has taken, but also in terms of the triumphs we witnessed throughout this fight. Communities have banned together, heroes have emerged and leaders have stepped up. At Wayne State, one of those leaders who helped shepherd the university through the pain of the past 18 months is Dr. Laurie Clabo, who stepped away from her post as the dean of the WSU College of Nursing to become the interim provost and chair of the WSU Campus Health Committee, a group critical to helping to shape the university policy in the face of the pandemic. With a new provost now installed, Dr. Clabo [is] returning to her post as dean of the College of Nursing, and she has also been named chief health and wellness officer for Wayne State University.

But her efforts during the worst of the pandemic have not been forgotten, and have been critical in guiding the university through the past troubles and establishing policies and protocols designed to protect us in the future. Here now to talk about her time as interim provost, as well as about the new direction the university is headed in in the aftermath of the pandemic is Dr. Clabo. Welcome.

Laurie Lauzon Clabo: Thank you, Darrell. It’s good to be with you today.

Dawsey: It’s so great to have you here. First of all, thanks so much for the great job that you did as provost in such a trying time. I know that couldn’t have been easy for you. I was hoping you could maybe talk to us a little bit about that. How was it for you to step in as interim provost in the middle of a pandemic?

Clabo: Well, it was an interesting time, and that’s an understatement, but I served as dean of the College of Nursing for five years when I stepped into the interim role. And it, for me, was a chance to exercise leadership at a different level, but also to really deepen relationships with folks across campus who I knew in some ways maybe in passing, but to develop those relationships more deeply and to learn more about our campus. Having been at Wayne [State] for five years, I’m surprised how much I learned in a year as serving as interim [provost].

None of what any of us as leaders on campus, or frankly in any of our workplaces do, is something we do alone. It always is a team effort. And in the time that I served as interim provost, I was incredibly supported by the council of deans, by our faculty and staff across campus, by colleagues on the President’s Cabinet, and by President Wilson himself. I felt very supported in that role.

Now, doing it in the time of a pandemic was a bit unprecedented, and working remotely for the vast majority of that time presented both unusual challenges and opportunities to connect in new ways. I’m really, really proud of how we managed the pandemic at Wayne State while staying true to our mission as an urban-serving research university. We say, “Come to Wayne State and receive a world-class education.” Our faculty and staff really devoted themselves to continuing to forward that mission in the most unusual circumstances.

And then when you talk about the pandemic management itself, the Campus Health Committee — which is made up of a variety of infectious disease experts and clinicians from across our campus including a number of leaders in our vaccine trials — has been just a tremendous, tremendous source of both support, but [also] more intellectual advice, scientifically-based advice. And one of the things we did that was really smart as a community was decide early on what were the metrics that we would use to change activities on campus. When would we decide that it was time to shut down a sport, or to close a research lab, or to move a particular class or group of classes online, all the way to when would we depopulate our campus? We developed those metrics early on based on data without emotion. We [watched] some other universities whose positivity rate would rise to 5%, and they would say, “Well, is five really worse than six?” And they’d have three days of meetings about that kind of decision, and then by then, it’s 10%, or by then, someone’s really sick.

We didn’t have to have those debates because we made the decision, and when we reached any of those trigger points, we acted on it. And that in and of itself, I think, was the largest factor contributing to the reality that we were one of very few universities in the country who did not contribute to an outbreak in our community.

Dawsey: We should be heralded for that because Detroit was particularly vulnerable and has been particularly vulnerable. We can say that we did as good a job as we can keeping things contained. What was the hardest decision that you had to make during that period?

Clabo: In some ways, making the decision to be more restrictive in some of our activities was the easier part because it was a very safe decision. But sometimes we had to make judgment calls that forced us to do things slightly differently than we had before. We mandated the flu vaccine for the first time in the university’s history because we were very concerned about having dual pandemics: having the COVID virus circulating at that time and another respiratory illness. Those decisions we spent a lot of time thinking about.

We dug a lot in the literature. I think what was more challenging and in some ways ... I mean, for those of us who live in the science, it was exciting, but definitely challenging was the expression about “building the plane while you’re flying it.” We were dealing for the first time in many of our lifetimes with an emerging illness on this scale. In my career, not since the advent of HIV, had we seen broadly circulating emerging illness. This was clearly far larger in scope and scale.

Decisions we made at one point based on best evidence we changed later on as new evidence emerged. Sometimes that’s difficult for folks who aren’t living in the literature to understand: “Why did you tell me one thing two weeks ago and a different story today?” I was talking to someone in my office who said, “Gee, a year ago, we were disinfecting our groceries. We were also afraid of surface transmission. As the evidence has grown, we’ve learned that surface is really not a source of transmission for COVID.” I think being able to change decisions and practices along the way — but more importantly, to be able to explain the rationale behind those changes — was often a challenge.

Dawsey: I wiped down many a grocery bag.

Clabo: You and I both.

Dawsey: Give me your overall assessment of how you feel the university handled the pandemic. If you were, say, grading us, what grade would you give us, and why?

Clabo: I’d give us an A. I’m not an easy grader, but I think we have been honestly an outlier in academic institutions. We’ve been incredibly safe. We followed the science. As I said, we weren’t guided by emotion, and we’re going to move back onto campus in the same way. It’s no small feat. I’ve talked to a number of colleagues across the country who say that their belief is that their relationship with the surrounding community, the university’s relationship with the surrounding community, was harmed by the pandemic, was really fractured — that communities looked at universities as sources of disease. At Wayne State, if anything, our relationship with our surrounding community was deepened. We partnered from the beginning with the Detroit Health Department, who helped us with move-in testing for residence halls last fall, and we meet with them on a regular basis. I speak to a representative of the health department at a meeting every Sunday about cases happening on campus. We early on made a decision that we would do contact tracing of campus-facing cases. That allowed us to be on top of any potential outbreaks and to shut them down before they could spread. And most importantly, I think the entire community did its part in trying to help abide by the guidelines and encourage their colleagues to do the same. Our fraternities and sororities were leaders in responsible behavior during the height of the pandemic. We’ve been incredibly fortunate that all of our community takes our relationship with the city of Detroit seriously. And our ability to follow the science, do the right thing and encourage others to do so has gone a long way to keeping us safe. I think we’ve done a great job.

Dawsey: I agree with you. You talk about following the science. We’re sort of at this interesting point — not just here in city or in campus, but around the country — where we’ve got a lot of people vaccinated. Some people say things are starting to slow down, not because there have people to be vaccinated, but because there are those who, for whatever reasons, refuse to take the vaccine. Just kind of curious, as a medical professional, what do you say to those people? Clabo: I really encourage folks who are hesitant in any way to speak to a trusted health care provider, speak to their own trusted health care provider. I was looking at some data earlier today that suggested that more than 80% of people get their primary health advice from the internet, social media. I’m not sure if you saw, but yesterday, Vivek Murthy, who is the surgeon general of the United States, issued a surgeon general’s warning declaring that social media misinformation is a primary public health threat in the United States, and right now, there are all kinds of unfounded, disproven stories about the vaccine circulating. We’ve done our best at Wayne [State], I think, to bring the scientific experts forward to have our vaccine experts on town halls, but that’s sometimes hard to combat the daily barrage of misinformation that people receive often through social media. And in the United States, there have been 336 million people vaccinated — doses of vaccines, sorry.

When we hear about the number of people who have had negative effects, those people represent an incredibly, almost infinitesimal proportion of those who’ve received the vaccine. The vaccine is our way out of this. As we’re starting to see cases of the delta variant rising in the country, when we look at who’s contracting the delta variant, it’s being referred to as a pandemic among the unvaccinated. Those of us who are fully vaccinated are protected against the delta variant. It is being able to sort through that sort of very large fog of misinformation and really talking to a trusted health care professional to get some advice about vaccine and its impact.

Dawsey: Now, some people might ask, given some of the concerns and the reluctance amongst some folks — many folks in the country and our communities — to take the vaccine, how do we reassure folks as they return to places like work, to places like campus, knowing that there are still so many people who have not taken the vaccine? I’m vaccinated. You’re vaccinated. But how do we make folks who have those misgivings about coming back into a place where maybe not everybody is, how do we put them at ease?

Clabo: I think there are a couple of things going on. There is some, what’s being described as “re-entry hesitancy.” That’s normal. Many of us have spent 16 to 18 months in a small bubble isolated from many, many other folks in many circumstances. It is not abnormal to have some discomfort around returning to prior practices. I think we have to recognize that. Give people a little bit of grace. Recognize that people are where they are. But the reality is, for those of us who are fully vaccinated, that’s our protection. That’s why we did this, so that we could go back to normal. I didn’t choose to get two doses of vaccine so I could stay in my house forever. What we know is that those of us who are fully vaccinated are highly protected against the delta variant, but what we need to do is get more of our community vaccinated so there doesn’t become the next variant, and the one after that, and the one after that. Mass vaccination — large-scale vaccination — is going to be what gets us out of this.

Dawsey: Now, we’re talking about returning. You’re going to be returning to your previous role as the dean of the Wayne State College of Nursing. How do you feel about that? Are you glad to be going back? I wouldn’t expect you to say that you’re not, but I would hope that we can maybe have a little more nuanced discussion about that. How do you feel about returning?

Clabo: It’s a really good question, Darrell. So since I came to Wayne State five years ago, I have said to my colleagues, “I have the best job in the country.” I believe that as much today as I did five years ago. And while I was really happy to serve as provost on an interim basis as service to the university, serving as a university provost is not a career aspiration of mine. I love being back in my college. One of the interesting things that’s happened in the past year is, I think, our campus community, our city and indeed the globe have learned about the value and the impact of professional nursing practice. And on our campus, we’ve demonstrated it through the work of the professional staff in the Campus Health Center who’ve been critical to keeping us safe. Faculty and staff in the College of Nursing have participated in mass-testing efforts in the city, have administered vaccines in homeless shelters and nursing homes. I’ve never been more proud of the profession that I chose for my career. Being able to move back to the college, work closely with those colleagues, and yet continue in this new campuswide leadership position related to health and wellness is, for me, the best of both worlds.

Dawsey: That’s great to hear. Now, I’m just kind of curious, now that you’re putting your dean hat back on, what do you think the impact of the pandemic would be on the nursing profession and on nursing education as we move down the road?

Clabo: What’s really interesting, we’re continuing to see an increase — a small increase — in people applying to nursing schools. I’m surprised. I think in the early days of the pandemic, frankly, I would have expected some contraction of that; I would have thought that potential applicants might be frightened by what they’d seen as the consequences of nurses who were exposed to COVID in the early days. We’ve not seen that. We’ve seen an outpouring of people who are interested in providing meaningful service to their community. I also think we’ve demonstrated that nursing is more than something that happens only in a hospital. We’ve seen what nurses do as leaders in community-based practice, in home-based practice, yes, in hospital-based practice, and in academics and sometimes even as a provost. I think it’s really, really broadened society’s lens on the role of nursing. Now, how does it change nursing education? I think those impacts are going to be large. We’ve talked a lot about evidence-based practice in my profession and the use of evidence to guide everyday decisions. In the last year, we’ve demonstrated that evidence changes on a daily basis, and we’ve got to help professional nurses be not only informed consumers of research evidence, but able to rapidly translate that evidence to practice, to assess the quality of evidence as it emerges and decide, “What do I need to implement in my own practice?” We saw that in the pandemic. There’s no scenario I could have prepared for nursing students that would have demonstrated that more than our experience in living this last 18 months.

Dawsey: Now, in addition to sort of redonning your dean hat, you’ve got a new position: You’re the chief health and wellness officer at Wayne State. What is that, and what will you be doing?

Clabo: In this role, I’ll be reporting to President Wilson and serving as an advisor on both health policy and health care delivery on our campus. Let me give you an example: As we’re thinking about a return to campus, one of the things that many organizations are predicting we may see is a tsunami of mental health needs and how are we, as a campus, think about preparing for the needs of our campus community as students begin to return to campus. I think about those students whose senior years of high school were interrupted, delivered remotely — and maybe even their freshman year of college. We have many sophomores who have not stepped foot on campus, and they’ve been largely isolated for a long period of time. We expect an emergence of mental health needs. Part of my new role will be helping to build a robust campus health plan to be able to respond to those needs in a way that, again, keeps individuals safe, keeps our campus safe.

Dawsey: Wonderful. We’re getting close to wrapping up, Dean Clabo. I don’t want to take too much more of your time, but I would like to sort of extend you an opportunity to maybe add anything that we haven’t had a chance to talk about. Is there something, maybe, you wanted to touch on that I didn’t [get] to touch, or any parting words for our audience?

Clabo: Well, from my perspective, it is ... there are a couple of things. First, my optimism about the fall. I’m so glad we are starting to think about and actually moving toward a robust return to campus, not as sort of toes-in-the-water return. I’m looking forward to New Student Convocation and FestiFall — those sort of rites of academic life that will return to a much more normal presence in the fall. My health message is always, “Get vaccinated.” Get your friends vaccinated. Get your family vaccinated.

While I have had a wonderful experience in the past year serving as interim provost, I am so excited about the arrival of our new permanent provost, Mark Kornbluh. I have spent a lot of time with Provost Kornbluh in the transition, both after the announcement of his appointment and since his arrival on campus. I am thrilled that we will have his leadership at the academic helm of our university. He is at heart an academic, and he is so committed to our mission as an urban-serving research university. I’m excited about what our future looks like under his leadership.

Dawsey: We look forward to [welcoming] him, and he’s got some pretty big footsteps to follow in — yours, I mean. We want to thank you for your leadership because we know that that was not an easy thing for you to do. I appreciate you stepping in, and certainly, I appreciate you taking your time to talk with us today to tell us about what we can kind of look back on and what we can expect for the future. Dean Clabo, thank you so very much.

Clabo: Thank you, Darrell.

Dawsey: All right. You have a wonderful day.

Clabo: You too.

Dawsey: All right. Bye-bye.

Clabo: Bye-bye.

Dawsey: This is Darrell Dawsey. This is the Today@Wayne podcast.

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