Rachel Derr, program director of pre-licensure programs and clinical assistant professor at the Rutgers School of Nursing in Camden, has been named a recipient of the 2023 New Jersey League for Nursing (NJLN) Nurse Recognition Award. She was among only eight nurses honored with the award, which was presented during the 2023 NJLN Nurse Recognition and Scholarship Awards Gala on November 3 in acknowledgment of her commitment and contributions to nursing education.
According to the NJLN, Derr is among a select group of mentors and leaders who are making an indelible mark on the nursing profession while contributing to healthy communities.
“I am both honored and humbled to be chosen for this prestigious award,” Derr said. “I am committed to upholding the standards of excellence that this award represents and will continue to dedicate myself to the noble profession of nursing.”
As a nurse educator, Derr is passionate about educational pedagogy that supports student success. Currently, she is focusing on developing inclusive and equitable teaching practices through a process she calls "equity-oriented design,” which aims to foster a learning community in which all students can attain commensurate outcomes, irrespective of their backgrounds, abilities, or life experiences.
One of Derr’s teaching strategies, Using a Clinical Judgment Template to Examine Quality and Safety, was recently published in the American Association of Colleges of Nursing’s Essentials Toolkit. Eight universities across the country are piloting this technique as part of a multisite research study. Derr also works to widen her reach through her blog, Changing Course: Innovative Ideas for Nurse Educators.
Prior to pivoting to academia in 2007, Derr worked as a registered nurse in a neonatal intensive care unit, where she found deep fulfillment in helping patients thrive. After a traumatic brain injury in 2012 forced her out of the classroom for three years, she started the next chapter of her teaching career at Rutgers–Camden, where she feels fortunate to have found a close-knit community to support her through her recovery.
“It took some time for me to rebuild my confidence,” Derr said. “I am so happy that I returned to teaching nursing at Rutgers, where I have found a nurturing atmosphere where I can flourish as a nurse educator and leader.”
Derr adds this recognition to a long list of awards, including the 2023 Chancellor's Award for Teaching Excellence. She has presented her work at several national nursing conferences, including the Coalition of Metropolitan and Urban Universities 28th Annual Conference, the 2023 National Nurse Educator Summit, and the 2022 Quality and Safety Education for Nurses International Forum. Of her many accomplishments, Derr said she is most proud to know she has played a role in the achievements of her students.
“I am proudest when I know I made a difference in the success of a student and when I watch our students walk across the stage at commencement and join the profession of nursing. Through touching the lives of our nursing students, I know that I am influencing the lives of countless others.”