Meet the New Provost – Dr. Bernadette Howlett Q&A

Bernadette Howlett provostYour title at University of Western States is provost and vice president of academic affairs. What does that title mean at UWS?
The provost and vice president of academic affairs (VPAA) is a member of the executive cabinet responsible for all of a university’s academic programs, as well as the services that support them – such as the library. One of the primary duties of the provost and VPAA is to work with the president and cabinet to allocate the resources needed for academic programs and support services. As the provost and VPAA at UWS, I’m responsible for serving as the liaison officer for regional accreditation, which means speaking for the university and ensuring compliance with accreditation standards. The regional accreditor (Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, NWCCU) provides oversight of quality assurance to colleges and universities in the seven-state region of the Northwest. UWS additionally has specialized accrediting bodies for some of our programs, such as chiropractic and massage therapy. In addition to resource allocation and accreditation compliance, the provost and VPAA works with the deans, chairs and members of the faculty and staff to design curricula, assess performance of programs, and develop and retain the faculty and staff.

What excited you about coming to UWS in this role?
I have a lifelong interest in integrated health care. Also, my academic focus for the last 20 years has been evidence-based practice. These two areas come together at UWS. The programs here perfectly align with my interests.

What’s your vision for what you want to do as provost at UWS?
I see UWS a leader in the transformation of health care services and health science education, responding to new paradigms of health care payment models, integrated health and competency-based education. As provost, my vision is for UWS to be the destination for integrated health science education and health care services as well as the benchmark by which similar institutions are measured.

What is your first priority in this role?
My first priority is accreditation reporting. Since I’ve been on board we have already submitted an interim report to the Council on Chiropractic Education (CCE), which is the programmatic accreditor for the Doctor of Chiropractic program. We are also preparing two reports for NWCCU, which are due this fall and spring.

What are some specific challenges you see faced by UWS?
We have a great deal of opportunity coming from changes in health care regulations as well as the industry of higher education. The challenges come from recognizing and responding to these opportunities to the benefit of the students who attend UWS as well as the patients we serve. Related to this issue is the cost of delivering education in the health sciences. Ever changing technologies in both health care and education, the importance of hands-on learning for clinical education programs (which requires a lower student-to-faculty ratio than lecture-based delivery) and relentless increases in fixed costs (such as health insurance) place health science educational organizations in a particularly challenging situation from a budgeting standpoint. The dedication of people working at UWS as well as their creativity is why UWS is so successful in addressing these challenges.

You are well known in the integrative health care research and academia field. What drew you to this line of work?
I suppose it started for me when I was 19 years old and had a bad injury to my ribs. I received chiropractic care as well as massage therapy. I was told the provider who initially evaluated me that I would not fully recover; but with the help of massage and chiropractic care I was able to heal.  At that time, I was also an avid bicyclist. So, I was really interested in maintaining my health, not just getting treatment if I got sick. I learned about the idea of food as medicine. I learned about the spirit/mind/body wellness model. I sought various interventions focused on wellness, including acupuncture. I also became very interested in individualized medicine. As a result of all this, I pursued a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies. And I have always worked in interprofessional teams focused on identifying and addressing root causes, which to me defines integrative health care. All of this has added up to a career focused on evidence-based, patient-centered, integrative models of health care and related research.

What is your dream job, had you not started working in the health care and education fields?
My dream job would be producing music in my retirement years. I have always performed and written music. In my bachelor’s degree one of my majors was music. Interestingly, I took a course called “Sounding the Inner Landscape,” which offered some content on the health effects of music. I think that class planted a seed in me long before I considered the path I eventually would take in health science education. I would have remained in music, my career of choice, if I had been more comfortable with raising children as a “starving artist.” After I had my second child (I have two sons) I started thinking that being the child of a starving artist might not be the idyllic childhood I wanted for my boys. It was a wonderfully romantic idea for me to live a bohemian artist life. But it lost something for me when higher education knocked on my door and placed opportunity in front of me. Ultimately, I didn’t lose out on anything. I still play and write music… and I still don’t get paid to do so. All kidding aside, music is still very much alive for me. My career in health science education has afforded me endless opportunities to be creative, which keeps my heart happy and makes the work engaging. I learned over the years that what I most value is contributing to making the world a better place. There’s nothing more impactful in that regard than education.

What are your hobbies when you are not working?
Of course, there’s music. Also, I love being outside. Hiking and exploring the outdoors is like food for me. I fall in love with nearly every place I visit and can imagine myself living there. Additionally, I enjoy volunteering. I haven’t found an organization here yet to be hooked into. It likely will end up being whatever high school my younger son ends up attending. My older son is college age and preparing to attend Clark College.