Fifty Years After Graduating from Nursing School, Times are Different, But Bonds Remain

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Members of the Class of '71 from Methodist School of Nursing were honored as adopted alumni by the UTHSC College of Nursing Friday. From left, Susan Schmidt, Eleeva Hilbun, Dr. Diane Pace, and Jan Barkett.
Members of the Class of ’71 from Methodist School of Nursing were honored as adopted alumni by the UTHSC College of Nursing Friday. From left, Susan Schmidt, Eleeva Hilbun, Dr. Diane Pace, and Jan Barkett. They wear caps they fashioned from paper, simulating what was once required as part of their uniform.

When Diane Pace, PhD, APRN, FNP-BC, IF, NCMP, FAANP, FAAN, director of Special Academic Programs at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s College of Nursing, graduated from the Methodist Hospital School of Nursing in 1971, the dress code for nurses was a crisp white dress, white hose, polished white shoes, and often, a starched cap.

Times have changed, and that uniform has generally been replaced by hospital scrubs. However, the bonds that connected the Class of ’71 remain. Several of them got together at UTHSC Friday for a lunch, some laughs, and lots of memories.

The gathering was hosted by the UTHSC College of Nursing, which adopted the graduates of the Methodist School of Nursing when it closed in 2007, in recognition of the university’s clinical partnership with the hospital.

“You are part of UT alumni and we want you to stay connected to your past and to your friends and college, and we’re here to do that for you,” said Wendy Likes, PhD, DNSc, APRN-BC, FAANP, dean of the UTHSC College of Nursing

Dr. Pace, who was 19 when she graduated as a member of that first class, organized the 50-year celebration. While only four members of the class were able to attend, the camaraderie was evident during the luncheon in the refectory of the Mooney Building in the Historic Quadrangle at the center of the Memphis campus.

Jan Barkett, left, and Susan Schmidt help each other fold paper into nursing caps, in the same way they did with starched linen when they were in school.

The friends talked about their school days, their careers, and even tried their hands at folding stiff white paper into nursing caps, as they once had to do with starched linen. They also enjoyed treasures from the past that Dr. Pace had saved, including their 1971 yearbook and a CD of an album made decades ago by the Methodist Hospital School of Nursing’s glee club.

Dr. Pace reflected on how nursing has changed over the past 50 years. “Education is much more complex and steeped in advanced college-level academic courses,” she said. “Scientific evidence-based literature is much more mandated and integrated, as is scientific research.”

Dr. Pace also pointed out the increase in advanced degrees (master’s and doctoral degrees) in nursing today. “I did not see any doctorally prepared nurses in my diploma program and very few master’s prepared,” she said. “Now, we see many nurses being lifelong learners and getting advanced degrees. Like me, many Methodist Hospital School of Nursing alumni came to the UTHSC College of Nursing to get their advanced degrees, including their master’s or doctoral degree as a nurse practitioner or PhD.”

Classmate Jan Barkett from Sikeston, Missouri, attended the gathering with her husband. “There’s a profound feeling of pride that we’re part of UT,” she said.

Susan Schmidt, another classmate, spent 45 years nursing in the Methodist Healthcare System. “I did love it,” she said. Schmidt said it was wonderful to see her classmates, but disappointing more could not attend.

“Each of us really did cherish the time we had on Friday,” she said. “UTHSC really went all out for us.”