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History of the Jefferson Nursing Program

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Woodcut of the JMC Hospital of 1877, designed by noted architect Frank Furness.

Jefferson Medical College (JMC) established a School of Nursing, which opened its doors to 13 students in 1891. Founded as a separate entity from JMC, its title was the Jefferson Hospital Training School for Nurses, and it became the grandmother of all the programs to come in the College of Allied Health Sciences (CAHS). Its first director was Ella Benson, replaced soon afterward by Miss Effie Darling.

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Combined graduating classes of 1893-94.

Before hospitals were common, surgery occurred at a clinic or the doctor’s office and patients were immediately sent home to recover. By the middle of the nineteenth century health professionals recognized the danger in releasing patients too early after a major operation. In 1849 JMC’s "teaching clinic," one of the nation’s first, was expanded to 20 beds and by 1877 a new 125-bed hospital was attached to the College. The dearth of training for nurses required that staff physicians needed to sit with patients in post-op recovery due to the frequent side effects of ether. Nursing education came to Jefferson as a solution to extending professional care.

The 1891 admission requirements to the two-year program included that women "must be between 21 and 35 years of age" and that applicants of "superior education, culture, and refinement" would receive first consideration. A 30-day period of probation would take place prior to final acceptance into the school. These "probationers" did not wear a uniform but performed numerous tasks and began their 14-hour day with a lecture at 7 a.m. After successfully demonstrating an aptitude for learning, the former "probies" were allowed to wear their official Jefferson uniform; a floor length pink cotton dress with a starched white apron and cap. They also became eligible for a monthly stipend of $6.00 ($8.00 per month in the second year) to cover "uniform dress, books, stationery, etc.". The Jefferson Hospital Training School for Nurses provided its candidates with free room and board and laundry services. Two weeks vacation and health care coverage were also fringe benefits.

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Dietary instruction at the "Teaching Kitchen for Pupil Nurses" located in the Hospital of 1877.

The trainees had over two dozen lecturers comprised from the world-class faculty of JMC, which included:

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Nurses in the Hospital of 1877.

It is notable that the only outside lecturer was Dr. Clara Marshall, MD (Dean of Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania), whose subject was the delicate, Anatomy and Physiology of the Pelvic Organs in Women.

The School’s first Commencement was celebrated on November 23, 1893 with five graduates of the original 13 applicants. At this time the course of instruction was lengthened to three years.

Over the years, the evolution of nursing education was charted at the nursing program at Jefferson’s CAHS. In 1979, noting the national trend of a decline in nursing applicants, the Faculty and Board of Trustees voted to phase out the School of Nursing. Although the final graduation exercises took place on June 10, 1982, the current Department of Nursing continues to offer numerous programs and graduate degrees. In the 90 years of operation, Jefferson is proud to have produced more than 5,000 nurses of the highest accomplishments.

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