ETSU Nursing Program Celebrating 60 Years
JOHNSON CITY (September 30, 2014) – Dr. Wendy Nehring isn’t sure what the next 60 years will hold for East Tennessee State University’s College of Nursing, but if they are anything like the program’s first 60 years, the dean says things are looking bright for the school.
“The program began with a vision and, from the beginning, it was a quality program,” Nehring said. “I think the first faculty and leaders would be very pleased with where we are today and I think 60 years from now, we will think the growth equally phenomenal.”
East Tennessee State College, as it was then called, began its official program for nursing in 1954. The college already had been working with the area hospital for approximately a decade to help train nurses. During the 1940s, nurses went to ETSC for academic education in areas such as psychology, sociology, English and chemistry while getting their clinical training at the hospital.
Then, 60 years ago, efforts to move nursing toward professional status led to the integration of the entire educational experience being offered at ETSC.
“Johnson City Medical Center was Memorial Hospital at the time and then became Appalachian Hospital before becoming Memorial Hospital again,” Nehring said. “They were having us teach some courses for them and partnered with us when the Tennessee Council for Nursing Committee for the Expansion and Improvement of Nursing Education recommended that ETSC establish a baccalaureate program in nursing.”
Starting out as a four-year baccalaureate program was pretty unusual at that time in Tennessee, according to Sharon Loury, a nursing professor at ETSU and health care historian.
“Diploma nursing was probably the most common path to becoming a RN back then so this was rare,” Loury said. “The role that ETSU had in educating nurses in the region during the early years was very significant.”
Loury spent several years leading up to the ETSU program’s 60th anniversary researching the history of nursing in East Tennessee and talking with some of the earliest graduates.
“The ones that graduated in the 1950s and 1960s loved what they did and they will always define themselves as a nurse,” Loury said, reflecting on her conversations with several of them. “It wasn’t just a job to them. They loved their patients and they loved being a nurse.”
Many ETSU nursing graduates went on to assume top leadership roles in hospital administration.
Dr. Kathryn Wilhoit graduated from ETSU with her B.S. degree in nursing in 1969 and went to work for Laughlin Hospital in Greeneville, then to Leigh Memorial Hospital in Norfolk, Va. She arrived at Memorial Hospital in 1973 as director of surgical services. In 1988, she was named chief nursing officer and vice president for Johnson City Medical Center at the time when the facility was a stand-alone hospital.
“We were just one hospital but we were building our infrastructure into a regional medical center,” she said.
When Mountain States Health Alliance was formed in 1998, Wilhoit assumed a nursing leadership role for the entire system. During her tenure with MSHA, she had oversight of several areas, including WINGS Air Rescue, cardiovascular services, respiratory therapy and transitional care.
Wilhoit retired from MSHA in July 2012 as corporate vice president. In addition to meeting and working with many great people and “some of the most creative and hard-working staff,” Wilhoit says another aspect of her job she enjoyed was having the opportunity to work so closely with ETSU.
“I stayed very active with the university in many capacities,” said Wilhoit, who served a term as president of the ETSU Alumni Association and even earned her Ph.D. from the university in May 2012. “I always kept a close relationship with the College of Nursing and enjoyed working with the deans. They are producing the future of nursing.”
Today, ETSU’s College of Nursing is the largest in the state. It boasts five different routes to obtaining a baccalaureate in nursing – the traditional four years of study, an accelerated second degree program, a dual degree RN-to-BSN option, a LPN-to-BSN option and a RN-to-BSN option. The school also offers a master’s degree in nursing, including a clinical nurse leader track, as well as a Ph.D. program and a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree.
More than 6,500 degrees have been conferred through the nursing school at ETSU.
Nehring believes much of the school’s success over the years stems from the environment within and surrounding the College of Nursing.
“It’s the faculty and staff that give students their attention and their time, that want to see the students succeed, that are passionate about nursing,” she said. “And it is the opportunities that are present here. It is being a part of an academic health sciences center that is growing and making available interprofessional opportunities for our students and faculty. It is having upper administration who believes in you. It is the encouraging atmosphere here at ETSU.”
ETSU will celebrate the 60th anniversary of its nursing program at a semi-formal event on Friday, Oct. 3. The dinner will take place at the Millennium Centre beginning at 5:30 p.m.
Tours of the College of Nursing on the campus of ETSU will take place Saturday, Oct. 4. The tours will include visits to both Nicks and Lamb halls on the main campus and the Johnson City Community Health Center on Century Lane. The simulation laboratory will be open as well. Tours begin at 10 a.m., 11 a.m. and noon. The tours will also include a visit to the Mountain Home Museum on the VA campus where an exhibit showcasing the history of the ETSU College of Nursing will be unveiled at 10 a.m.