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Sigma Theta Tau Nu Iota chapter welcomes nursing historian Pat van Betten to present the evolution of professional nursing in Nevada.

The Orvis School of Nursing Nu Iota chapter of Sigma Theta Tau International was pleased to welcome nurse historian and author of Nursing Illuminations: A Book of Days, Pat van Betten, RN, as the evening speaker for the organization's spring business meeting on May 1, 2007. Van Betten provided an eloquent and inspiring discussion of the evolution of professional nursing in Nevada and stressed the importance of continuing to develop the history of nursing practice in the silver state. Grant funding to assemble and display Nevada's Nursing History for NNA's 75th anniversary was received from both Sigma Theta Tau International chapters in Nevada. The collective efforts of NNA members, North and South, made those displays and this presentation possible. The following provides a synopsis of van Betten's presentation.

Records show that early Nevada nursing started with midwifery practice. In the 1850s, Florentina (Nellie) Nostrossa learned midwifery by working with Eureka physicians. In 1899 Mary Oxborrow prepared as a midwife in Salt Lake City, then provided medical care and delivered babies in Lund, Nevada until her death in 1935.

The Red Cross Society of Nevada was instrumental in the development of the nursing profession in Nevada. The first Red Cross Society of Nevada was started in Carson City in 1898. Within a month, other groups formed in Wadsworth, Reno, Virginia City, Austin and Winnemucca. The Red Cross Society raised money for clothing, food, bedding, and medical supplies for enlisted men and was active in volunteer efforts during the Spanish American War.

In 1875, the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent De Paul established a hospital down Six Mile Canyon in Virginia City on land donated by Mary Louise Mackay, after whom the hospital was named. The hospital, described as "the best in the mining district," admitted its first patient in 1876. The four story building could accommodate 60 to 70 patients and was supported by fees from miners. The building is now the St Mary's Art Center in Virginia City.

Following the lead of the Comstock miners, reservation hospitals opened across the state and two hospitals opened in Reno; Washoe County General Hospital (now Renown Regional Medical Center) and St Mary's Hospital (still in operation). Early in the days of hospital care in Nevada, nurses came from other states to work at these Reno hospitals.

Early in the 20th century, there were four attempts to legislate nursing practice in Nevada. The first, in 1915, would have commissioned the State Board of Health to regulate nurse examinations and licensure. The second attempt, in 1919, was successfully legislated but was vetoed by the governor. A third attempt was defeated in 1921 and in 1922 a committee of the Nevada State Nurses Association presented a draft of proposed legislation to register nurses to the Nevada State Medical Society. The following year, nurses, with support from the Nevada State Medical Association, organized and petitioned the State Legislature to establish a State Board of Nurse Examiners. That same year, the Nurse Practice Act of Nevada was established. This successful legislative effort provided the means to examine and register nurses in Nevada. Then governor Emmet Derby Boyle was directed to appoint three qualified graduates to the Board of Nurse Examiners that were to meet regularly, provide publicly announced examinations, and develop lists of both accredited training schools and nurses registered under the law. Nurses who successfully completed the licensure examination could place the initials RN after their name. This organization, while changed in structure and now autonomous in function from the medical society, exists today as the Nevada State Board of Nursing.

In 1954, the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare initiated a statewide survey to identify nursing needs in Nevada and ways to meet those needs. The findings of this early research were that a program of nursing offering a baccalaureate degree in nursing should be established at the University of Nevada Reno. The first BSN program in Nevada was established on the Reno campus of the University of Nevada in 1957; and the Orvis School of Nursing continues to educate nurses in Northern Nevada to this day.

On a national level, the Nurse Training Act was established in 1964, which helped finance nursing education and the building of nursing schools nationwide. That same year, a state survey was conducted to identify current and projected nursing needs in Nevada. Initiated by the Nevada Public Health Association, this survey recommended nurse preparation programs at all educational levels. The following year, an Associate Degree nursing program was established at the Las Vegas campus of the University of Nevada. In 1972, the program was expanded to encourage RNs to return to school and earn a baccalaureate degree. Shortly thereafter, graduate level nursing programs were established both in Northern and Southern Nevada, and additional entry-level nursing programs were developed. The creation of the Nevada community college system in 1969 paved the way for the establishment of associate degree programs of nursing in Nevada.

Historians agree that "history [is] best understood when viewed through the eyes of those who observed and experienced significant events in nursing." To this end, van Betten poses that it is essential to continue to gather and understand the past of our profession so that we can be better prepared for the future. According to van Betten, both University of Nevada campuses have oral history programs and van Betten further poses that the collection of oral histories from the "history-makers" of Nevada nursing is an essential step that must be taken while these nurses' stories can still be told.

Van Betten quotes the words of Minnie Goodnow (1916) to underscore the importance of understanding the history of our profession as we create our future. "History tends to make us humble. It many times shows us that the work which we think original is only a repetition of that which has been done before. It shows us how our predecessors struggled with problems almost exactly like those which we meet. It makes us see that the conditions under which they worked were markedly similar to those of today; that their methods were not wholly unlike ours; and that their results resembled ours, being no less conspicuous than those which we today laud as remarkable ...."

These words are powerful advice for our dynamic profession that historically experiences cyclic periods of shortage and relative equilibrium. Many in nursing and health policy planning pose that the profession must be forward focused to adequately prepare to meet the challenges ahead. While it is true that future-focused, innovative strategies are needed to care for an aging population in a day when the health care industry is increasingly pinched by declining reimbursements, challenges in the nursing work environment, and aging within the ranks of the profession, perhaps a look to the past is needed to meet the challenges of the future.

Lisa Black, PhD, RN; Assistant Professor, Orvis School of Nursing
COPYRIGHT 2007 Nevada Nurses Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:District/State News
Author:Black, Lisa
Publication:Nevada RNformation
Geographic Code:1U8NV
Date:Aug 1, 2007
Words:1149
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