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Dillard’s much heralded Nursing Program is back

5th March 2018   ·   0 Comments

By Ryan Whirty
Contributing Writer

Emerging from a period of intensive self-assessment and review, Dillard University School of Nursing announced recently that it was restarting its pre-licensure baccalaureate nursing programs, reinvigorating a 75-year tradition of educating nurses and preparing them for a career of caring for patients in need.

In 2016, Dillard suspended admissions for the baccalaureate course to conduct a voluntary, comprehensive internal analysis of the storied program. The result of that examination, university officials announced, is a completely restructured baccalaureate program that will start in spring 2019.

“Dillard has always been known for its nursing education, and this will restore vigor to the program,” said School of Nursing Chair Dr. Sharon W. Hutchinson. “We want to bring it back to the level it once was. It continues the legacy Dillard is known for.”

Hutchinson said a key facet of the restructuring is a tightening of the admissions process that will make the program more exclusive and admit only the top students in the field. The university worked hand-in-hand with the Louisiana State Board of Nursing on the assessment program, which has given its initial approval for the revitalized, progressive nursing course.

“It was a difficult decision to inactivate admissions, but it was the only decision that made sense,” Dillard President Dr. Walter M. Kimbrough said in a statement. “The entire Dillard community is proud of what we have accomplished, but we are even more encouraged about what our restructured nursing program offers to the next generation of nurses.”

The new program will add to and enrich a highly respected nursing program at Dillard that stretches back to the 1940s.

As the United States fully entered World War II as 1942 dawned, almost immediately the demand for medical personnel, both at home and on the battlefront, swelled to near crisis levels. As a result, institutions of higher learning across the nation either bolstered their nursing programs or, at some schools, launched brand new schools or divisions of nursing.

Among the latter category was Dillard, a university that had been at the forefront of African-American innovation and higher education for decades, going back to the 19th-century formation of their forerunner schools, New Orleans University and Straight University. In the medical field, that sterling reputation included the Flint-Goodridge Hospital, a facility that treated mostly Black and other underserved patients and patrons, and was owned and operated for most of its existence by Dillard.

In 1942, with World War II raging overseas and the battle for civil rights gestating at home, Dillard launched its Division of Nursing, the first baccalaureate nursing course in Louisiana and one of the first programs for Black students in the South and Midwest.

“Representing a new trend, the emphasis on nursing education will in every sense be regarding as part of the regular curriculum on the same academic level as other divisions in the university,” a contemporary wire service article stated.

One of the primary driving forces behind the establishment of the nursing program was the legendary Albert W. Dent, the superintendent of Flint-Goodridge Hospital and eventually the president of the university. In addition to making the hospital one of the best medical facilities in the South, Dent felt nursing was a crucial aspect of health treatment.

“As superintendent, Dent in 1934 had discontinued Flint-Goodridge’s deficient practical nursing program, but he saw the need for a creditable nursing school,” wrote Joe M. Richardson in Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association in 1996. “Nurses, he believed, were more important than other college graduates because they were an integral part of the community and the interpreters between physicians and patients.”

Also becoming a towering figure in Dillard’s revolutionary nursing program was Rita E. Miller, an experienced and visionary nurse who drew up a rigorous, five-year course of the student for the nascent Division of Nursing. Miller served as a consultant for Negro (in the parlance of the time) nursing education of the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps, and by 1944, just two years after the founding of the Dillard nursing course, she had become so esteemed in her field that the USCHC tapped her to tour 20 college and universities across the country to encourage new female students to pursue excellence.

Miller later was appointed to the Committee of Education of the National Organization for Public Health Nursing, among other honors.

Right from the beginning, the university strove for excellence. In 1942, Dillard officials Rudolph Moses and Charles W. Bugg took a three-week tour of the nation’s nursing schools to generate ideas and solicit advice as Dillard grew its program.

And it didn’t take long for the Dillard Division of Nursing to make its mark on national medical education. In 1944, Dillard hosted a gathering of the National Nursing Council for War Service, the first such conference in American history. With World War II churning at a fever pitch, conference attendees reported on a serious shortage of black nurses as well as the dearth of nursing-education facilities and courses.

The school produced its first class of graduates in 1945.

In 1949, the National Committee for the Improvement of Nursing Services placed Dillard’s nursing program among the top 25 percent of the country’s basic nursing courses. In 1969, Dillard was tapped as one of two schools to launch a nursing student recruitment drive to address a grave shortage of health-care workers across the country.

In addition to its involvement in such progressive efforts, the Dillard School of Nursing consistently received major grants and donations to enhance its program. In 1954, the program received a five-year, $200,000 grant from the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis to strengthen the university course, and four years later the March of Dimes gifted $168,000 to the school for the growth and enrichment of the program.

The tradition of excellence continued into the new century, and in 2012, the School of Nursing celebrated its 70th year with a gala on campus that included a reception, dinner, music and the screening of a film documenting the nursing program’s history.

Now that the School of Nursing has remade itself and prepares to embark on a new era, everyone involved with the program—faculty, administration, staff and students—are excited to hit the ground running, Hutchinson said. At present, 36 students are enrolled in the school’s three nursing courses. In all, the program has produced roughly 1,200 graduates, a tradition Hutchinson said inspires the current crop of students.

“They want to be a part of that history and legacy,” she said of the aspiring nurses. “There’s a renewed interest in the program, and there’s an awareness of that history.”

This article originally published in the March 5, 2018 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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