Gendler Trades Dean's Office For Research Role

October 5, 2007
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Phyllis Gendler is retiring as dean of Grand Valley State University’s Kirkhof College of Nursing, but she’s hardly hanging up her nurse’s cap.

After seven years of academic administration, Gendler said she’s anxious to get moving on an osteoporosis research project she’s put on the back burner for too long.

“It’s now part of a team,” Gendler said, which will encompass a wide group of professionals and students in a variety of health care disciplines.

“Twenty years ago, we thought it was an older women’s disease. Now we realize that it’s a pediatric disease with geriatric implications,” she added. “If you don’t have strong bones when you’re 5, then you’re more likely to have weak bones when you’re 85. So we need to look at prevention, healthy bones, as well as treatment once the bones are weak, as well as — if you have a fracture — post-fracture care and rehabilitation.”

Gendler and GVSU nursing faculty in the 1990s published research tools for measuring people’s knowledge and beliefs about osteoporosis and how effective they believe exercise and calcium to be in maintaining bone health. Those tools have been used by researchers throughout the world and have been translated into four languages.

Gendler joined the Kirkhof College of Nursing with its inception in 1973. Armed with a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Michigan, Gendler said she was frustrated with the barriers to professional growth she encountered as a nurse at Blodgett Memorial Medical Center.

“There was a little announcement in the newspaper that a baccalaureate program in nursing was being started. This was the first time in the area,” she recalled. “I called up the director just to congratulate her, and she was so shocked, because apparently no one really saw the need for nurses to have more education, and she wasn’t getting that from the community at all. … I came out and she explained the curriculum and what she wanted to do. I was so excited. I just immediately fell in love with curriculum and what it meant for nursing … and I got hooked.”

Gendler eventually earned a master’s and a doctorate in nursing and worked as a nurse practitioner while keeping up with her academic duties. She’s also been a member and leader of the West Michigan Nursing Advisory Council. She was appointed interim dean of the GVSU nursing school, and then won the job permanently in 2001.

“What I want now is to have something that I can really use my expertise with depth,” Gendler said. “This job has been very exciting, very wonderful. I’m very proud of the college and I’m very happy with the accomplishments, but I’m all over the place.”

Gendler said she’ll offer whatever transition help the new dean, Cynthia A. McCurren, requests through the end of the current semester, and then will go on leave through next summer to coordinate the osteoporosis research project. She hopes to resume a spot on the faculty next fall, although the details are still unclear.

McCurren, currently interim dean of the University of Louisville’s School of Nursing, takes over Nov. 5.

Gendler, 67, of Belmont, said she and her husband, retired doctor Harvey Gendler, intend to see more of their two offspring, four grandchildren and tennis courts in the coming months.

“You reach a point in your life where you just want to have a little bit more control, a little bit more free time,” she said. HQX

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