• Lawrence Tabak, who holds a doctor of dental surgery, will soon head the National Institute of Nursing Research as interim director.
  • Some nurses have said the organization should be run by a nurse, and appointing a dentist diminishes the profession.
  • The US agency posted a job application “encouraging qualified nurses to apply” on September 13, the day Business Insider reported on interim appointment.
  • Visit BusinessInsider.com for more stories.

The country’s largest federal nursing research institute will soon be run by a dentist and a biologist.

Former principal deputy director Lawrence Tabak, who holds a doctor of dental surgery, or DDS, will serve as interim director of the National Institute of Nursing Research. Tabak will take over for Ann Cashion, who announced her resignation on August 30. Cashion holds a doctorate in nursing. Her last day is September 30.

The National Institutes of Health also appointed Tara Schwetz, who holds a PhD in biology, as deputy interim director. Schwetz previously served as the NIH associate deputy director.

The US agency added a job listing encouraging qualified nurses to apply on September 13, the day Business Insider reported on interim appointment, and two weeks after Cashion announced her resignation. The job application page will take submissions until November 18.

"NIH has every intention of filling the director position of the National Institute of Nursing Research with a highly qualified leader in nursing research," a NIH representative told Business Insider in a statement. "Earlier this year, NIH conducted a nationwide search that unfortunately failed to identify a suitable person to fill this important role."

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Some nurses argue the positions to head the federal research organization should have gone to nurses.

"There's the suggestion just that any random, in this case, old white man can supervise a bunch of nurses and it doesn't take any particular skill or education," Sandy Summers, executive director of the advocacy group The Truth About Nursing, told Business Insider. "It damages public understanding of the nursing profession, it sends a message nurses are not college-educated science professionals."

The NINR provides clinical and basic research for either nurses conducting healthcare research, or research in nursing science. NINR is one of 27 institutes that comprise the National Institute of Health, the US Department of Health and Human Services' medical research agency.

The Truth About Nursing recently put out a petition - currently with 2,100 signatures - demanding the NIH rescind their appointment and choose a nurse to lead the organization. The Truth About Nursing aims to better the public's understanding of what nurses do and call out negative stereotypes in the media.

Doris Carroll, vice president of the Illinois nurses union and founder of the Nurses Take DC movement, said the appointment dismisses the qualified nurse researchers and nurse academics across the country. Nurses must have at least an associate's degree to practice, but may go on to get a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree.

From 2017 to 2018, the number of students enrolled in doctor of nursing programs increased from 29,093 to 32,678, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

"We're highly qualified academically and we've done many research studies over the years," Carroll told Business Insider. "We need to have one of our own head up that organization."

Nursing is currently one of the country's fastest growing professions, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Since the average age of a nurse is currently 51, many nurses will soon retire and give their positions to younger candidates. However, nearly one in five nurses leave the profession after the first year - an issue that could be due to burnout from handling too many patients at once, Carroll said.

"Nurses are routinely being driven out of the nursing profession because of the way they're treated," Summers said. "It's important that the public understand nurses go to college, nurses get high-level degrees."

This story has been updated with a statement from NIH.

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