The chair of East Central University's Department of Nursing has retired after 28 years of teaching, publishing eight books and about 100 journal and Internet articles and writing or co-writing grants which have brought more than $4 million to the university.
Dr. Joseph T. Catalano retired June 29. He came to ECU in 1981 and was named department chair in 2002.
During his years at ECU, the Department of Nursing grew from a small, rural program with seven full-time nursing faculty which graduated 12 to 15 students per year to the current program with 17 faculty members which graduates more than 50 students per year.
"We are now the second largest baccalaureate program in the state, based on number of enrolled nursing students, second only to OU," Catalano said. "When the new program at Ardmore is fully implemented, we will be admitting 98 students per year and probably graduating about 85 each year."
The nursing program added a campus site in Durant in 2000 funded by an $800,000 grant from the Health Resources Services Administration. The site at Ardmore was started in 2007, funded for the first two years by a $700,000 grant from the Southern Oklahoma Memorial Foundation and Mercy Memorial Health Center in Ardmore. Another $750,000 grant from the Health Resources Services Administration will partially fund the program for the next three years.
"The position as department chair has been a real challenge, especially as the program has grown so rapidly," Catalano said. "My real passion is classroom teaching. I especially enjoy taking the tremendously complex and complicated subject matter we routinely deal with in health care and presenting it in a way that students can understand and remember."
Catalano, a recipient of ECU's prestigious Teaching Excellence Award, said he went back through his old grade books and counted all the students who graduated from the nursing program since he started teaching.
"I was surprised to find that it was well over 1,300," he said. "Many of them are now in health care leadership positions, particularly throughout southern Oklahoma, but also at the state level."
Catalano earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy from St. Hyacinth College in Granby Mass. He received his basic RN education at St. Elizabeth Hospital, Utica, N.Y., and his bachelor's degree in nursing from State University of New York at Utica/Rome. He earned a master's degree in nursing from SUNY at Buffalo, and a Ph.D. from the University of North Texas in Denton.
Catalano is the president of Region 6 and a board member of the Oklahoma Nurses Association. He is well known statewide and nationally for his dynamic and engaging presentation style, having presented more than 100 papers and conferences during his tenure as a nursing professor.
"I learned early on in my teaching career that besides teaching you also needed to entertain, otherwise everyone falls asleep," he said. "It sometimes becomes a tricky balancing act making sure the students are learning what they need to learn while telling enough stories and jokes to keep them attentive."
Catalano also is known as an expert in health care-related issues. His memberships on national level committees include the American Nurses Association Committee on Health Care Ethics and the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission.
At the state level, he has represented health care and nursing education in rural areas as a member of the Governor's Taskforce on Health Care, the Southern Regional Health Care Workforce, the Oklahoma Board of Nursing Committee on Education and Practice and Oklahoma Hospital Association - Committee on Education and Practice.
"As one's career as an educator and RN draws to a close, you sometimes wonder what type of legacy you leave behind," he said. "Certainly the accomplishments like publishing books and growing the department are important, but the real significant legacy is the people whose lives you touched over the years.
"I hear from my former students from time to time," he added, "and when they tell me they are using something I taught them every day in their practice or are motivated to be better nurses because of their interaction with me, that really makes it all worth while."
Catalano is married to Pamela M. Catalano, a pediatric nurse practitioner for the Oklahoma Department of Health. He has two daughters, Amanda and Sarah, both of whom live in Ada.
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