In a company of faculty and former faculty, alumni and guests, Radford University's School of Nursing celebrated its 40th anniversary at a gala on March 1.
The event, held in the new College of Business and Economics building, drew from across the nursing community, from members of original nursing faculty to recent graduates, making the gala like a family reunion, RU President Penelope W. Kyle said in her opening remarks.
Kyle praised the nurses in attendance, faculty and alumni alike, for their dedication, skill and invaluable contributions to their communities. "Nursing is not just a job, not just a profession," Kyle said. "It is a response, not to what is optional but to what is essential."
Producing exceptional nurses is one of the university's cornerstones, and Radford nurses have continually met the challenges of a changing health-care landscape, the president said.
Elizabeth Merwin '76, executive vice-dean of the Duke University School of Nursing, was the evening's keynote speaker. She outlined the changes in health care that nurses and their educators now face. Health care has become so complex and the needs of patients and their communities have changed so much over the years that the knowledge base required of nurses is larger than ever before, Merwin said.
"Our profession has grown, and we have seen the evolution of graduate programs and the evolution of advanced nursing practices," Merwin said. "We have an unparalleled opportunity to effect change."
After her presentation, Merwin was presented with the School of Nursing's 2013 Outstanding Alumni Award for her contributions in nursing, rural health and health care in general. "I have such a grateful feeling in my heart for RU," she said. "I learned to be a leader here."
Nursing education at Radford began in the late 1960s, with the first 11 graduates from the program receiving their degrees in 1973. The program has seen many changes in the intervening 40 years. It gained school status in 1982 and college status in 1984. Graduate degrees were first offered in 1988, and the school has led RU into the ranks of doctoral universities with the first Doctor of Nursing Practice (D.N.P.) degrees, awarded in 2011.
The School of Nursing has now awarded 2,293 Bachelor of Science degrees, 451 Bachelor of Science in Nursing degrees, 215 Master of Science degrees, 84 Master of Science in Nursing and six Doctor of Nursing Practice degrees.
"It's a very competitive program," said Kenneth Cox, dean of the Waldron College of Health and Human Services, of which the School of Nursing is a part. "Students come to us to be nurses. We take the best, and we turn out the best." Radford nurses have long been sought after, and many clinical nurses across the region have ties to RU, Cox said.
Many attendees to the 40th anniversary gala are still in health care, applying the lessons they learned at Radford. "Radford's vision and the leadership opportunities we had taught us to embrace all of health care," said Jan Botkin '84, director of maternal services at Augusta Health in Fishersville. "Radford is still really at the forefront. They have stepped up to meet the needs of the population they serve."