Education: Hospital Diploma Programs

Many of the nurse pioneers obtained their education through hospital diploma programs.  These programs were available to aspiring nurses with little money as, with few exceptions, they worked in the hospital and had “classes,” usually given by physicians, sandwiched in-between.  In most cases, these trainees provided an unpaid labor force and were an economic asset for the hospitals.  These nurses had extensive experience caring for the aged, but no theory in geriatrics.

Burnside (Garand & Buckwalter, 1996) described the experience.  Entering nurses’ training in 1941 at Ancker Hospital School of Nursing in St. Paul, Minnesota, she was in one of the better programs, as they were bused to the University of Minnesota to study anatomy, physiology, and other basic subjects.  They were on probation (“probies”) for the first six months of the program and, if successful, went through the capping ceremony.  Trainees lived in a home, usually adjoining the hospital.  Probies lived in the basement and moved to higher floors as they progressed in their training.  There were strict house rules, little privacy, and students were dismissed if they married during their training.  Students were in charge of entire wards early in their training and often worked split shifts with classes in-between.  Most were sent to state mental institutions for a few months during their training and their discovered the “back wards” where elders with dementia were incarcerated — neglected and ignored.  For many, this spurred them into action to change the situation.


Ebersole, Priscilla, and Touhy, Theris A.  “Chapter Seven:  Educational Programs and Publications for Geriatric and Gerontological Nurses.”   Geriatric Nursing:  Growth of a Specialty.  New York:  Springer Publishing Company, Inc., 2006, pp. 207-208.

Leave a Reply