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Commentary: Nurturing progress — The evolution of the Annie Taylor Dee School of Nursing since 1953

By Rieneke Holman - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Sep 2, 2023

Photo supplied, Weber State University

Rieneke Holman

Many notable events took place in 1953. Burger King opened its first restaurant; John F. Kennedy married Jacqueline Lee Bouvier; “Vaya Con Dios” by Les Paul and Mary Ford was a top hit; and the Korean War ended. But perhaps one of the most important events for those of us who live and work in Northern Utah was the creation of one of the first associate degree nursing programs in the United States. Since then, the field of nursing has undergone a transformative journey that has not only redefined health care but also elevated the status of nurses in society — and Weber State University has been an essential part of that journey.

In September 1953, 36 young women became the first class of WSU nursing students. At that time, the role of nurses was often confined to providing bedside care, with little involvement in decision-making or policy development. However, medical advancements and shifting societal norms paved the way for nurses to assert themselves as knowledgeable health care professionals. The introduction of the polio vaccine, the development of new antibiotics and other medical breakthroughs initiated a shift from simply providing comfort to actively participating in patient treatment and recovery.

The 1960s brought further changes, as the Civil Rights Movement and the feminist movement sparked conversations about equality and opportunities for women, including those in nursing. During this time, Weber State expanded its programs to include a practical nursing program in 1968, born from a partnership with the St. Benedict’s School of Nursing.

By the 1970s, nursing education underwent a transformation, with an increasing emphasis on academic preparation. This not only enhanced the quality of care but also elevated the credibility of nurses within the medical community. In 1974, Weber created its first outreach education program, which was the associate degree in nursing. This program extended into rural Utah in response to community needs.

The 1980s saw the recognition of nursing as a distinct profession, leading to the development of nursing theories and the articulation of nursing practice standards. The AIDS epidemic presented nurses with unprecedented challenges, showcasing their adaptability and compassion in the face of a new and terrifying health crisis. Nurses played a pivotal role in patient care, public education and advocacy; WSU played a role in educating nurses to rise to new challenges by starting a bachelor’s degree in nursing in 1987. Today, nursing students can work through their education in a stacked credentials model, which starts with foundational hands-on and clinical judgment skills in the associate degree program and then adds leadership, policy and research knowledge and skills in the bachelor’s program.

As health care entered the digital age in the 1990s, nurses embraced technology to improve patient outcomes and streamline processes. Electronic health records and telemedicine expanded nurses’ capabilities, enabling them to provide care across distances and collaborate more effectively with other health care professionals. This era also saw the emergence of evidence-based practice, reinforcing nursing’s commitment to delivering care grounded in the latest research. Weber State’s nursing program was no exception to utilizing technology. In 1997, the nursing program began to offer its first online courses to outreach students.

In the 21st century, nursing has continued to evolve, and WSU’s school of nursing has evolved right alongside the profession. The demand for specialized nursing roles grew, with nurses entering fields like education, leadership and family practice. Weber State’s nursing programs also evolved to meet industry demands for nurses with advanced skills. In 2008, WSU began offering a master’s degree in nursing, and the inaugural class of nurse practitioners had a 100% pass rate on their certification exam.

More recently, the global health care landscape posed new challenges, from infectious disease outbreaks to the increasing prevalence of chronic illnesses. Nurses demonstrated their adaptability and resilience, providing care on the front lines and advocating for health equity and social justice. During the COVID-19 epidemic, WSU was on the front lines. The school of nursing was heavily involved in campus contact tracing and community vaccination efforts, in addition to continuing nursing education and graduating registered nurses and nurse practitioners to care for those affected by the pandemic.

In 2023, the Annie Taylor Dee School of Nursing is home to over 1,000 students in various programs led by 57 faculty and 10 staff. The school has the first and only doctorate program at Weber State and graduates family nurse practitioner students prepared at the doctorate level.

As we reflect on the significance of the school of nursing after 70 years, it is evident that its impact extends far beyond the classroom. Its graduates are not only skilled clinicians but also compassionate caregivers, dedicated advocates and community leaders. They embody the university’s motto, “Be Brilliant,” by carving their own paths while upholding the highest standards of nursing excellence.

In an era where health care challenges continue to evolve, the legacy of this school stands as a testament to the power of education in transforming lives and communities. As we look to the future, let’s celebrate and support the school of nursing in shaping the next generation of nursing professionals, ensuring a healthier, more compassionate world for all.

Rieneke Holman is a nursing professor and chair of Weber State University’s Annie Taylor Dee School of Nursing.


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