Janet (Jones) Gross, ’71, began her illustrious nursing career in service to her country and ended it the same way.
“It was not my specific intent when I first began as a nurse,” she said, “but opportunities presented themselves, and I knew it was the right thing to do.”
Growing up on Long Island, N.Y., the third of four children, Gross always knew she would attend college—both her parents and grandparents valued higher education and shared that value with their family—but she was not sure where she would go. Early on, she had decided she would follow in the footsteps of her aunt and godmother, who was a nurse and served in the Air Force for more than 20 years. When she discovered that Niagara University’s status as a National League for Nursing-accredited school would enable her to qualify for an Army Nurse Corps scholarship, and she saw that the university’s small classes would give her the personal attention of faculty, she realized NU would be the “perfect fit.”
At Niagara, Gross felt like part of an extended family, she said. She recalls how supportive, kind, and caring her professors were, and that, although she lived with other students off campus at the Red Coach Inn until her senior year, she felt a part of the campus environment. She fondly recalls playing on the women’s intramural basketball team and hanging out with friends at the Rathskeller.
After graduating in 1971, Gross was assigned to Fort Carson in Colorado Springs as an active duty nurse. After discharge from the Army, she moved to Florida, where she worked in a naval hospital. A year later, she returned to New York and began her first job in nursing education as a clinical instructor at a community college, which sparked an interest in nursing education.
“I loved working with the students in the clinical setting, seeing the ‘ah hah’ moment when the light bulb turns on,” she said.
That experience inspired Gross to continue her education. She completed her master of science degree in nursing from the University of Kentucky in 1982 and joined the faculty at Morehead State University. She taught at the associate degree level before helping to develop BSN and RN-BSN programs, in which she also taught. She also assisted in creating a collaborative program with the UK for an RN-MSN program.
She obtained her doctorate degree in nursing from the University of Alabama, Birmingham in 1993. In 1996, though her involvement with MSU’s Office of International Education, she began serving on an external board that developed and offered short-term study-abroad courses in English-speaking countries to students from MSU and other schools. In the years that followed, she supervised and taught courses typically focusing on comparative health systems in various countries including Australia, Barbados, Jamica, Ireland, Scotland, England, Kenya, and Ghana. This international work led her to pursue a post-master’s certificate in transcultural nursing from Duquesne University, which she obtained in 2004.
In 2007, Gross received an invitation to serve as a visiting professor for a year in a newly established baccalaureate nursing program at the University of Cape Coast, Ghana. She retired from MSU to accept the offer.
“It was an exciting opportunity to continue in my role as an educator, but to immerse myself in another country and its culture as opposed to dropping in for a visit,” she said.
Her one-year position in the Department of Nursing and Midwifery was extended for an additional six years, during which she taught at the baccalaureate level and developed and taught in a master’s program at UCC. She also spent a year at West End University College as department head.
Her time in Ghana reminded her of why she went into education in the first place, she said.
“The students were so enthusiastic, so eager to learn, and so appreciative of my teaching style,” she said. “It was so personally and professionally satisfying.”
Gross embraced Ghana’s concept of family as an extended unit and became part of several families. It’s one reason why she stayed so long on her initial visit to Ghana, she said.
“I have adopted sons and daughters in almost every region in Ghana, and several other countries as well,” she said. “I have watched these children complete their first degree and go on to achieve great things.”
In addition to teaching, Gross also engaged in humanitarian activities in Haiti and in rural China that flowed from her former position at MSU, as well as membership in Blessing Hands, an NGO based in Kentucky.
Gross considered retiring when her work in Ghana ended, but she decided to stay in Africa when she discovered an opportunity to explore East Africa as part of the US Peace Corps’ Global Health Services Partnership Program. For several years, Gross helped the nursing workforce in sub-Saharan Africa build capacity and sustainability through teaching in nursing programs in Uganda, eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) and Liberia. She then transferred to the Peace Corps’ Response Program in Liberia, where she worked as a volunteer nurse educator in the master’s program in nursing/midwifery education at the Mother Patern College of Health Sciences at Stella Maris Polytechnic University in Monrovia, Liberia, until May 2023.
As she looks back on her career, Gross says that each day brought new things, new adventures, new experiences, and new and old friends. She is grateful for the relationships she has established and maintained and the difference she was able to make in their lives.
“I believe that any success achieved in a person’s lifetime is best measured by those that follow,” she said. “I look to the successes of my former students, and my biological as well as my adopted sons and daughters, in the US, Ghana, Uganda, eSwatini, and Liberia, and count those as the highlights of my career. “