Fashion Icon Donna Karan Speaks about Self-Care, Wellness

Karan served as the keynote speaker for the Kent State College of Nursing’s annual Driving the Future conference series

University’s partnership with designer’s foundation focuses on caring for the caregiver.

Donna Karan, one of the most famous American fashion designers, was at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, on Monday, March 5. Karan served as the keynote speaker for the Kent State College of Nursing’s annual Driving the Future conference series. This year’s conference explored an integrative approach to incorporating self-care and mindfulness in a balanced personal and professional life. Conference attendees examined the impact of mindfulness on features of health care workplace environments, attitudes of the individuals working in them, and benefits to the patients who experiences congruence of those factors.

The designer’s Urban Zen Foundation has collaborated with Kent State’s College of Nursing for the past two years on the “Care of the Caregiver” program that focuses on self-care of nurses and its professional value of caring for the self in their education. The partnership with Kent State is Urban Zen’s first collaboration with a university nursing program in the country. The program is an innovative solution to the growing nursing shortage and more importantly, provides caregivers with the skills to care for themselves so they can better care for others.

Karan is the founder and leader of the Urban Zen Foundation, a philanthropic organization dedicated to the preservation of culture (past), wellbeing (present) and empowering children (future). The hallmark of the Urban Zen wellbeing initiative is the Urban Zen Integrative Therapy (UZIT) Program, which integrates eastern healing modalities with western science to care for patients, their loved ones and caregivers as well as the medical community within hospitals, outpatient facilities, patient support groups and home care.

While batting lung cancer, a last wish of Karan’s husband, Stephan Weiss, was that Karan “take care of his nurses.” As a result, the UZIT Program has turned its attention to the nation’s caregivers by modifying its core UZIT Program to focus on self-care for nursing students and nurses currently in the profession.

The collaboration between Kent State and Karan’s Urban Zen started in September 2010. Approximately 30 students in Kent State’s accelerated nursing program participate in the “Care for the Caregiver” program each semester. The goal is to address issues such as nursing burnout and job-related stress. The program includes training in yoga, essential oil therapy, Reiki, nutrition and contemplative care giving.

“The ‘Care for the Caregiver’ program investigates, develops and socializes students to develop and use critical self-care skills,” said Laura Dzurec, dean of Kent State’s College of Nursing. “It will help to create a legacy of sustainable, high-quality health care for generations to come.”

“Because we are faced with a nursing shortage that is growing daily, this program is critical,” said Lisa Sunshine, director of development and communications with the UZIT Program. “It’s a powerful solution because it begins within each nurse. As they learn to care for themselves, they connect more with the caregiving passion that they have. These skills will allow this passion to keep burning and not burn out.”

“Northeast Ohio is a center for both health care delivery and health care research,” said Kent State President Lester A. Lefton. “Health care is one of the driving economic forces for growth in the region, and we all have experienced the impact that well-educated and prepared nurses have on the quality, safety and cost of health care. As leaders in nursing education, Kent State’s College of Nursing wants our graduates to enter the health care field with all of the skills they need to lead health care into its sustainable future. We are delighted to have found a great partner in Donna Karan and her Urban Zen Foundation. Our collaboration will have an impact on the lives of our students and on nursing.”

The “Care for the Caregiver” program is also part of a research project between three colleges of nursing. Faculty active in the Nursing Self-Care Consortium comprising Kent State, Cleveland State University and Ursuline College are engaged in research to study the influence of mindfulness on students’ wellbeing.

“Through the consortium, we are able to better measure the impact of this training on perceived stress, mindfulness and self-care,” said Michelle Bozeman, coordinator for Urban Zen/Kent State’s “Care for the Caregiver” program. “One of the outcomes of the study we are conducting is to refine the self-care program so that it can be replicated in any nursing program across the country.”

For Urban Zen, the organization is thankful to have a partner in Kent State. “This is our first partnership in the field of health care education,” Sunshine said. “It’s been great. The feedback we hear from students is gratifying. They are embracing it in their daily lives, and it deepens their desire to be caregivers. It has been completely supported, and it’s been a beautiful relationship with Kent State.”

For Kent State students like Sue Crossen, a 47-year-old nursing major, the “Care for the Caregiver” program has been life-changing. Crossen decided to make a career change and go back to school. “For 25 years, I abused myself, working long hours, eating the wrong foods and taking care of everyone else,” she said. “I can’t take care of others if I’m not emotionally and physically ready. Who knew I would be so lucky that this program was here? This program allows me to do what I love, which is to help others.”

On March 5 at the Driving the Future event at Kent State, other experts who spoke included Dr. Cynda Hylton Rushton, a professor of nursing and pediatrics and Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, and Colleen Saidman Yee and Rodney Yee, well-known yoga experts and co-directors of the UZIT Program. Information about the Driving the Future series is available

With the largest program in the state, Kent State graduates more than 450 nursing students each year. More than 40 percent of nurses in Northeast Ohio are graduates of Kent State’s College of Nursing. For more information about Kent State’s College of Nursing,

For more information about the Urban Zen Foundation, visit

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POSTED: Monday, March 05, 2012 12:00 AM
Updated: Tuesday, March 28, 2023 02:44 PM
Emily Vincent