Celebrating 60 years: Villanova School of Nursing was first to open doors to women in an all-male school

(MainLine) “One of the things that makes our education at Villanova in the College of Nursing special and distinctive is the fact that we acknowledge that nursing, while a profession, is also a ministry.”

M. Louise Fitzpatrick, EdD, RN, FAAN, Dean of the Villanova University College of Nursing

Caring, compassion and college. For the last six decades those choosing a career in nursing have been able to combine all three while pursuing a degree in nursing at Villanova University.

Although the college has been conferring degrees to male students since the mid-1880s, it wasn’t until the College of Nursing was established in the early 1950s that its nursing students became the first women to study full-time at Villanova University.

The College of Nursing, which has been designated a Center of Excellence in Nursing Education by the National League for Nursing and a Stellar School by the National Student Nurses Association, has in recent years established a Center for Nursing Research, a Center for Global and Public Health and the MacDonald Center for Obesity Prevention and Education.

“Our College of Nursing prepares leaders for a changing health care system who are clinically competent, ethically motivated, and conversant with the newest technologies that are available to improve care to patients,” says M. Louise Fitzgerald, who became the third dean of the College of Nursing in 1978.

The changing health care industry is providing new opportunities for nurses to be “on the front lines of primary care. The range of possibilities are endless,” explains Fitzgerald who says she was drawn to the field of nursing after her experiences as a high school student helping in a camp for disabled children.

She believes that future nurses will be treating patients “outside the walls of the health care setting and only the very ill will be in hospital settings. Hospitals are changing. Hospitals are transitioning themselves into more ambulatory care. We have an aging population who will need long term care or care at home.”

From 10 to over 7,000

As far back as the 1930s and 1940s, a Villanova Bachelor of Science degree was awarded to nurses through the Division of Nursing, College of Arts and Sciences, at Hallahan High School. As local hospital officials sought more educated nurses, Villanova officials appointed Sister M. Alma Lawler, RSM and Sister M. Margarella O’Neill, OSF as co-directors to develop a Division of Nursing at the college in 1951. Two years later a baccalaureate program in nursing was offered to high school graduates. The first nursing class consisted of just 10 students who are housed in the Franciscan House of Studies, which was affectionately called “The Convent.”

In 1957, the nursing program received initial accreditation from the National League for Nursing. As the first six students graduated from the College of Nursing, they were awarded the BSN degree.

From the first 10 students enrolled, the College of Nursing can now boast of over 7,000 alumni, 55 percent of who live in the tri-state area. The distinguished alumni include retired Brigadier General Hazel Johnson, Ph.D, RN, the chief of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps; retired Rear Admiral Christine Bruzek-Kohler, Ed.D, RN, FACHE, the former director of the Navy Nurse Corps; Madeline McCarthy Bell, BSN, RN, president and chief operating officer of The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Gloria Donnelly, Ph.D, RN, FAAN, dean of the College of Nursing and Health Professions at Drexel University.

While the original students in the College of Nursing mostly came from the Main Line and surrounding communities, today’s nursing students have traveled from 29 different states and several foreign countries, including Japan, China and Korea, to study at Villanova.

Today over 600 students are enrolled in the undergraduate program of which almost all are full-time students. There are almost 300 more students enrolled in the graduate program, the majority of which are studying part-time while being employed full-time, many of them in health care and academic organizations. Six percent of those are international students from such countries as the Sultanate of Oman, Palestine, Kenya, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Nigeria. Among the concentrations in the master’s program are nurse anesthesia and nurse practitioners in gerontology and pediatric specialities.

Celebrating six decades

As part of its 60th anniversary celebration this past April, the College of Nursing conducted a conference entitled “Partners in Advancing Global Health: Educating the Next Generation.” The focus of the conference was global health care and international health concerns. Dr. Louis Hufo Francescuitt, a leader in public health, opened the conference with a speech entitled, “Let’s Get Rid of the Patient.” Nurse Neema al-Gasseer, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Assistant Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean Region and WHO’s representative in Egypt, spoke on “Building Evidence in Partnership Towards a Healthy Population in a Changing Environment.” She shared stories about her work in Africa and the Arab Spring.

The conference concluded with a Mass in the St. Thomas of Villanova Church, followed by the presentation of the 60th Anniversary Medallion to the Connelly Foundation and alumna Helene Moriarty Cincotta, Ph.D, Class of 1977 BSN, a nurse researcher at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center.

The College of Nursing Medallion is the highest award bestowed to students for distinguished achievement. The first medallion was awarded to Ellen Cooper, BSN of the Class of 1982. The medallion bears the seal of Villanova University, which is an adaptation of the official seal of the Order of St. Augustine. The motto of the University, as depicted on the seal, is “Veritas, Unitas, Caritas,” meaning “Truth, Unity, Love.”

50th Anniversary And $4 Million Endowment

During the College of Nursing’s 50th Anniversary, the Connelly Foundation announced an endowment of $4 million to establish an endowed deanship in the College of Nursing and to provide resources for program and faculty development, technology related to nursing studies and Connelly-Delouvrier scholarships to help support nursing students with international and multi-cultural learning experiences. “This generosity reflects an appreciation of what nursing contributes to society; to the academic environment; to scholarship designed to improve patient care; and to the value of the college, as an expression of Villanova’s mission,” says Fitzpatrick.

The green and blue of Villanova nursing

With nurses being health conscious, it seems only fitting that the college’s first “green” building serves as the home for the College of Nursing. The $32 million Driscoll Hall, on the site of the former softball field next to the Health Services building, was officially dedicated in October 2008. The 75,500-square-foot building includes a 200-seat auditorium, a 200-seat lecture hall, classrooms, clinical simulation labs and a reading room housing the College of Nursing’s historical collection. The building is named in honor of Rev. John M. Driscoll, OSA, who served as the 30th president of the college.

While the nursing building may be green, the uniforms worn by the nursing students have always featured shades of blue. Originally the student nursing uniform consisted of a heavy blue cotton dress featuring a white mandarin collar. “The blue and white colors honored the Blessed Mother, while the seven white pearl buttons represented the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit and the twelve pleats on the bodice symbolized the twelve Apostles. There was a patch on the sleeve below the shoulder that carried the traditional University Seal and symbols of the Order of St. Augustine, identifying the student as a Villanovan,” reads the college website.

One of the distinguishing parts of a nurse’s uniform – both for students and for professional nurses – was the white cap. “The cap has a small point that symbolizes the miter of St. Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo, and three points that symbolize the Trinity. Opened, the cap is round to represent the Host (Eucharist), and when folded, it forms a “V” in the back for Villanova, accentuated by dark blue trim (school colors),” continues the website.

In 1978, the original three-quarters length sleeves were replaced with short sleeves, while the dress stayed the same length, reaching several inches below the knee. That same year a uniform was implemented for male students. Two decades later a new uniform was implemented for the Class of 2001. Students in clinical practice wear a navy and white striped blouse or shirt with the Villanova logo and either a navy skirt or pants.

Decade By Decade Changes

In 1960, Marion M Schrum, Ed.D, RN, became the first dean of the College of Nursing, the same year the program moves to St. Clare Hall. In 1966, Alpha Nu is installed at the college as the 35th chapter of Sigma Theta Tau, nursing’s honor society. In 1968, Dorothy R. Marlow, Ed.D, RN, becomes the second dean of the College of Nursing. Nursing students now reside in the college’s first residence hall for women, Good Counsel Hall, which many simply call “New Dorm.” The program expands to St. Clare Annex, now known as Stone Hall.

In the early 1970s the College of Nursing moved to St. Mary Hall. In 1979 the program, in continuing education for nursing and health care, is established with federal funds under the direction of Assistant Dean Dr. Barbara Heller. The 1980s sees the approval of the master’s program of nursing, which is developed with a partial grant from the U.S. Public Health Service. Joan T. Large, Ed.D, RN serves as its first director. In 1982, the first students graduate from the MSN program. In 1984, the continuing education program receivesd initial accreditation from the American Nurses Association. Sandra Myers, BSN, Class of 1985, became the first Villanova nursing student to be elected president of the Student Nurses’ Association of Pennsylvania. In 1985, the Villanova University Nursing Alumni Society is founded.

The 1990s feature several new programs of study. In 1996, the first nurse practitioner program is established in Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner studies. A year later, a three-year federal grant establishes the Nurse Anesthesia component in the graduate program. In 1998 the Pediatric Nurse Practitioner option is established in the graduate program. As the decade, as well as the century, comes to a close, a graduate option in Health Care Administration, in collaboration with Villanova’s College of Commerce and Finance, enrolls its first students. In addition the Geriatric Nurse Practitioner option is established in the graduate program.

The 1990s are also characterized by an international flair, as Michelle McInerney, BNS, Class of 1995, becomes the first Villanova nursing student to study aboard at Kings College in London. At the same time the first international students enroll in the master of nursing at Villanova, traveling from Jordan and the Palestinian West Bank. A year later in 1993 more international students arrive at Villanova from the People’s Republic of China and the Sultanate of Oman. That summer the college conducts its first summer institute for nursing students from Japan. In 1995 the College of Nursing co-sponsors the Fourth Middle East Nursing Conference in Irbid, Jordan with the University of Windsor, Ontario and Jordan University of Science and Technology. In 1998 nursing students begin practicing health promotion at the Augustinian mission in Chulucanas, Peru. In 1999 the College of Nursing co-sponsors the first International Nursing Conference in Beirut, Lebanon with the University of Michigan and American University of Beirut

A New Century, A New Future

As the year 2000 opens, the College of Nursing is granted preferred status by U.S. Army ROTC, making Villanova the only non-host school in country to gain this designation. In 2004, the inaugural class of 12 doctoral students begins the new PhD in Nursing program. That same year the College of Nursing is one of only three schools in the nation to receive the new designation of “’Center of Excellence in Nursing Education” from the National League for Nursing.

In 2008 Bonnie Baloga-Altieri, a member of the inaugural doctoral class, becomes first nursing student to graduate with a PhD. In 2010, the College of Nursing establishes the Center for Global and Public Health. The Diane L. and Robert F. Moritz, Jr. DDS ‘51 VSB Endowed Chair in the Villanova College of Nursing is established in April 2013. “The use of this endowed chair for the advancement of research and scholarly inquiry in nursing will be a major catalyst in the next stage of our development,” predict college officials.

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