Sixty years ago, Weber State University's School of Nursing opened its doors as part of an innovative program to educate nurses during a time of critical scarcity; the program retains its national reputation for excellence and flexibility and continues to populate the State of Utah with highly trained Registered Nurses who provide quality care in both urban and rural settings around the region, state and nation.
This long and prosperous legacy of excellence in nursing education began in 1953 during the post-World War II era. The United States was barely recovering from the war when its troops were thrown into the North Korean conflict. These two factors greatly decreased civilian nurses and resulted in one of the severest nursing shortages in modern U.S. history. Mildred Montag, a doctoral student at Teacher's College and Director of Adelphi College's School of Nursing in New York, proposed and designed the two-year associate degree in nursing as an alternative to the traditional four-year bachelor's degree. Montag implemented this research project with seven community colleges located throughout the United States. At that time Weber State University (then Weber State College) was located in downtown Ogden and was selected as one of the seven pilot associate degree programs.
The beginnings were not easy, and pioneering a two-year nursing program met with some resistance. Ruth Swenson, the first director of Weber State's associate degree nursing program, did not let this stop the progress nor impede the success. Her leadership and innovative nature provided the perfect foundation to move forward. She was joined by nursing faculty dedicated to excellence; 36 nursing students soon became the first class of graduates in 1955. The education of the Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) and the Associate Degree Registered Nurse (ADN) was phenomenally successful in Ogden, and soon branched out to envelope the rural areas of Utah. It was a nursing program in which the educators were willing to take risks to help populate many Utah hospitals with much needed, well-educated and skilled health care providers. That same innovation and prosperity has continued throughout the years.
Weber State University School of Nursing has developed a nationally recognized reputation for excellence in nursing education based on the school's commitment to its innovative stepladder approach. The School of Nursing offers an associate degree in nursing, a bachelor's degree in nursing and a master's of nursing with a selected focus in administration or education. This format to nursing education provides the nursing student with the option to enter or exit the program at different times or levels in their education. Each level of education fulfills a distinct need in our complicated and changing health care environment.
What started with one director, a couple of educators and 36 students now has one director, four administrators, more than 40 full-time faculty and upward of 1,000 nursing students each year. The key to the success of WSU School of Nursing continues to be the program flexibility and the ability to deliver nursing education to the student and the community using the stepladder approach.
The School of Nursing faculty has always taken pride in responding to the changing healthcare needs and demands of the local community as well as the more rural parts of Utah. This is evident in the way WSU nursing education is being delivered throughout Utah. While the majority of the education takes place on campus, programs are also offered online for distance learners, those who live in places as far flung as Richfield and the Uintah Basin. Classes are also available in a "hybrid" format as the student progresses to the bachelor's degree level, which is a combination of face-to-face and online learning.
The School of Nursing has strengthened ties in the community by joining forces with Davis Applied Technology College, Ogden Weber Applied Technology College, Mountainland Applied Technology College and Bridgerland Applied Technology College, to provide opportunities for a Licensed Practical Nurse to advance to a Registered Nurse using WSU's School of Nursing curricula and the ATC's facilities. For 42 years, the School of Nursing also has had a successful co-op program on the Utah State University campus. In addition, online programs have been offered to rural communities throughout the state and have provided rural hospitals and healthcare facilities with much-needed skilled nursing care.
The nursing program at WSU continues to be unique from the majority of nursing schools in that it provides the state with three levels of health care providers: the Registered Nurse, the Baccalaureate Nurse, and the Master in Nursing. Throughout the years, nurse educators at Weber State University have built on a foundation of innovation and flexibility -- incorporating technology, challenging learners, developing educators and transforming health care in our community and worldwide.
Thornock, EdD(c), MS, RN, is the chairperson of the Weber State University School of Nursing. The Standard-Examiner plans to publish other commentaries on this subject over the next year.