GAINESVILLE - The Brenau University School of Nursing has been educating new nurses for a half century, and the school wraps up its 50th anniversary celebration at a special event on Thursday, April 24.
Originally known as the Hall County School of Nursing, the school graduated its first class in 1963.
The celebration of the 50th anniversary is set for 5 p.m. on Thursday, at Brenau University's East Campus at the Featherbone Communiversity. At 5:45 p.m. alumni of the school of nursing will be recognized, as will be the school's first five doctoral students. There will also be a special presentation honoring one of the schools key benefactors, Anne Thomas of Gainesville. Tours of the school of nursing will follow the presentations.
"At first, the School of Nursing offered a non-collegiate diploma of nursing," said Dr. Sandra Greniewicki, interim director of the School of Nursing. "Although Brenau did not officially take over the school until 1978, Brenau partnered with the school to offer some of the academic courses required for the diploma."
Ten students were part of that first class of nurses. About 80 undergraduate nurses are expected to graduate this year.
Today the Brenau School of Nursing is a diverse, state-of-the-art program designed to prepare students to provide health care that is "sensitive to the unique health needs of individuals, families and communities."
The program, which comprises both online and classroom instruction, includes an undergraduate Bachelor of Science in Nursing and graduate programs for Family Nurse Practitioner, Nurse Educator and Nurse Leader Manager. The school also has a popular RN-to-BSN program for nurses with two-year degrees to earn a four-year undergraduate diploma. Since 2010, the university has offered a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree.
Today's modern program is a far cry from what the students in the first class in 1963 experienced.
From 1960 to 1978 the Hall School of Nursing was completely owned and operated as a part of Hall County Hospital (now Northeast Georgia Medical Center), which had total control over the nursing program, including its rules and regulations on student behavior and expectations.
"It was believed that nursing was a full-time endeavor and a dedicated calling that occupied all of the students' time and effort," said Greniewicki. "During this period, the rules were modified, but nursing education continued to expect full dedication from its students."
In the early days of the school, the students lived together in a dormitory for three years. Every day, from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m., they went to classes, followed physicians on their rounds and studied.
On weekends the students were enrolled in swimming, ballet and other activities by the Hall County Hospital's Ladies Auxiliary Board. The activities were designed to keep the students active and cultured. The students were not allowed to be married, and they were required to live in the dormitory, which was next door to the hospital.
The first class' uniform was a white dress, hemmed just 13 inches above the floor, white cap with stripe and a blue dress cloak. Today, Brenau's nursing students wear black scrubs emblazoned with a Brenau emblem.
Other things have changed since those early days, too. For instance, a student once was responsible for cleaning, sharpening and sterilizing needles for use the next day, something that obviously wouldn't occur today. The first class used to push a 6-foot-tall defibrillator down the hall to help patients whose hearts had stopped. Today, defibrillators are small and easy to transport.
Through a cooperative merger arrangement in 1978 between the Hall County Hospital Authority and then-Brenau College, the first four-year Bachelor of Science in nursing program was initiated for new students of nursing.
"This program also offered the nurses who had earned the diploma in nursing from Hall School of Nursing the opportunity to earn a bachelor's degree in nursing by receiving advanced placement in their studies," Greniewicki said. "Even then, the nursing students were expected to make their nursing studies and clinical experience a top priority in their lives."
By the early 1980s, the first four-year degrees in nursing were award by Brenau.