When Ann Marie McCrystal, B.S. ’59, began her studies at the University of Miami in what was then the Department of Nursing in the College of Arts and Sciences, the country was in the midst of a postwar boom. Classes were held in temporary World War II barracks that the students of that era described as the “cardboard college.” The height of the U.S. civil rights movement was still years away, and the feminist revolution was barely a blip on the radar screen. Against this national backdrop, McCrystal and her fellow students in Coral Gables, guided by a team of dedicated faculty, were hard at work advancing the vision that has defined the UM nursing program since the nursing major was first introduced in 1948: sharing knowledge, providing service, and educating a new generation of health care professionals.

Program Pioneers

In 1956 the Department of Nursing, chaired by Dora Eldredge Blackmon, graduated its first class of ten students. In addition to her departmental duties, Blackmon taught a class for nurses in local hospitals on “team nursing” as a way to quicken response times in clinical settings and better triage patients who needed the most urgent help.

Most hospitals today require the bachelor’s degree as a condition of hiring, and numerous studies link college-educated nurses to better patient care. But in the 1950s, nursing majors often had to justify to others, including their own parents, why they felt that a college degree, rather than a certificate course or a non-degree hospital-based program, was necessary for the job.

McCrystal recalls her mother’s difficulty in understanding why she wanted to change her major from music and drama to nursing. “I explained that the only added expense would be the cost of a uniform, and that if I didn’t like it, I would return to my original major. But as soon as I spent the first day at Doctors Hospital, I knew all the drama I was looking for was right there! That summer, after spending six weeks in the OR, I knew I had found my home.”

McCrystal went on to become a founder of the Visiting Nurse Association and Hospice Foundation of the Treasure Coast, where she was instru-mental in building what is still the only hospice in Indian River County, Florida. She is among a distinguished list of early UM nursing program graduates who became trailblazing health care professionals, including Janet Pitts Beckmann, B.S.N. ’68, who served as dean of the School of Nursing at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and is a former associate dean for graduate and continuing education at the University of Miami School of Nursing and Health Studies. Other graduates became book authors, college professors, health care adminis-trators and, of course, care providers at the bedside.

“Times were different, but the one thing through the years nursing students need to remember is that no matter what you learn, caring for the patient is what’s most important,” says Sima Gebel, B.S. ’53, C.N.P. ’76, who, 60 years after graduating from the UM nursing program, has acknowledged the School of Nursing and Health Studies with a gift in her estate plans.

Professor Georgie Labadie was a full-time faculty member between 1981 and 2003 and remains involved with the school as a faculty development consultant. She notes that the students who choose to specialize in nursing or health science have always been those who “master and apply knowledge as it becomes available, long after formal education has ended. What sets our students apart, then and now,” she says, “is a willingness to commit to a process of lifelong learning for the well-being of individuals, families, and communities.”

The nursing program transitioned out of the College of Arts and Sciences, becoming its own school in 1968. The first dean of the school, Gwendoline MacDonald, was appointed in 1970. By 1976 the Master of Science in Nursing program had been established. In 1978 one of Florida’s first midwifery programs was started at the school and in 1985 the school launched what is now one of the most established Ph.D. in nursing programs in the United States.


New Decade of Historic Change

In 2003 the energetic Nilda (Nena) Peragallo Montano stepped into the role of dean, and the first decade of the new millennium proved transformational for the school. The year 2004 marked two watershed moments. First, the school broke ground on the M. Christine Schwartz Center for Nursing and Health Studies, a 53,000-square-foot facility that became its new home in 2006. Next, the school added a Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences to its degree offerings and changed its name to the School of Nursing and Health Studies (SONHS).

In 2005 master’s programs in nurse anesthesia and adult acute care were added to the degree offerings, and not even a hurricane could derail the school’s skyrocketing momentum. As Hurricane Wilma was barreling down on South Florida in October of that year, Dean Peragallo Montano and the SONHS leadership were in the midst of applying for accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. The storm knocked out power for six weeks in the administrative building on Corniche Avenue, but the SONHS team set up shop in UM President Donna Shalala’s office and completed the detailed reports that earned the school full accreditation in 2006. The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education reaffirmed accreditation of the SONHS in 2010 for the maximum terms of ten years (bachelor’s and master’s programs) and five years (D.N.P.).

The first decade of the new century heralded revolutionary change not only for the SONHS but also for the nursing profession itself. In 2008 The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) launched a two-year initiative to assess and advance nursing as a discipline. The resulting landmark report, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, recommended revolutionary changes in practice, education, training, workforce planning, and policy making.

Today the report is the best-selling and most frequently viewed publication in the National Academy of Science’s 150-year history. At the helm of the committee that led this national effort was President Shalala. Its youngest mem-ber was SONHS Assistant Professor Rosa Gonzalez-Guarda, Ph.D. ’08.

“We cannot improve the quality of health care in America without nurses in key management roles,” President Shalala said in 2010.

This sentiment is echoed by David Zambrana, D.N.P. ’09, who was in the school’s first D.N.P. graduating class and is now chief operating officer of University of Miami Hospital, South Florida’s first University-owned, multi-specialty, acute health care facility. Zambrana is also a student again; his interest in research has led him back to the SONHS, where he is now pursuing his Ph.D. When asked to name the most important skill for today’s nursing professionals to master, Zambrana answers, “Leadership, leadership, leadership.

“Whether they are clinical care providers, educators, or scientists,” Zambrana continues, “today’s nurses have an opportunity to create their own place at the table and, with their unique skill set and knowledge of clinical dynamics, provide a valuable perspective. My own education at the SONHS helped me hone these valuable leadership skills.”

Other D.N.P. graduates have been recognized for their leadership and drive to improve the health care setting in which they work. Marie Etienne, D.N.P. ’11 was named 2011 Haitian Woman of the Year by the National Center of the Haitian Apostolate for her contributions in aiding survivors of the devastating earthquake that struck her hometown of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in 2010. Rebecca Suzanne Wells, D.N.P. ’11, is the first of the school’s D.N.P. graduates to be awarded the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship, which took her to Ufa, Russia, to teach community and mental health to nursing and medical students at Bashkir State Medical University. As director of Ambulatory Care Clinical Services at University of North Carolina Health Care, Tom Hartley, D.N.P. ’11, oversees 111 clinics responsible for more than 7,500 daily patients and 2,000 physicians and nurse practitioners. Hope Williamson, D.N.P. ’10, a U.S. Army major who served three tours in Afghani-stan and Iraq, produced a disaster management mobile application that provides reliable medical treatment to soldiers in the field, invented during her time as a SONHS student.

These and the numerous other SONHS alumni in top management roles across the country are leading the charge to implement recommendations made by the RWJF/IOM Future of Nursing report, which acknowledges that nurses can and must play a vital role in advancing the objectives of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. The report notes that nurses should be highly educated and should be full partners, with physicians and other health care professionals, in redesigning health care in the United States.

Redesigning health care and improving interprofessional collaboration are important goals of the school’s Simulation Hospital for Advancing Research & Education (SHARE™), a five-story, 41,000-square-foot facility where nurses, physicians, pharmacists, physical therapists, and other health care professionals will work in teams to improve patient safety outcomes. SHARE™ captures the real-life flow of interaction, giving students and researchers the ability to assess and effectively address every possible safety breakdown in the hospital setting.

“The School of Nursing and Health Studies takes immense pride in 65 years of contributions to the education of bedside care providers, health care scientists, and educators,” says Dean Peragallo Montano. “SHARE™ will continue the school’s tradition as a pioneer in the provision of innovative, state-of-the-art health care research and education. It will also be a test bed for new health care products and patient safety research.”


Leaders in Research, Partners in the Community

In recent years the School of Nursing and Health Studies has solidified its position as a research powerhouse, now ranking among the top 25 in the U.S. and second in Florida among schools of nursing for NIH funding. Various translational studies enable faculty researchers to bring evidence-based interventions into community settings.

Extensive community outreach is not a new phenomenon for the school. When Hurricane Andrew struck in 1992, the school established a nurse-managed primary care clinic in the devastated region of South Dade and also teamed up with the University of Miami medical school to staff the Pediatric Mobile Clinic, where SONHS personnel still provide care to underserved children and families in the community. When the Dade County Health Department reported an alarming increase in whooping cough (pertussis) in fall of 2012, the SONHS led a community dissemination and vaccine campaign at local senior centers and schools.

Student-organized health fairs, which provide primary wellness screening and education to the local populace and have been taking place regularly since 2000, are a vital service in a region with record numbers of uninsured residents and a low ratio of primary health care providers to people. These community health fairs, plus clinical site and mentorship opportunities through more than 250 clinical partners throughout South Florida, expose students to one of the most diverse patient populations in the nation. The result is a cadre of future nurses who, by the time they graduate, have not just heard about the concept of health care inequities but have seen the reality during their clinical practice experiences.

“The School of Nursing and Health Studies is today one of UM’s most cutting-edge schools,” says President Shalala. “Our current graduates comprise a population that is the most diverse in school history. This is very important because we are graduating the health care workforce that will serve the culturally, ethnically, and racially diverse patient population of the future.”

The School of Nursing and Health Studies has become well known for its emphasis on transcultural nursing education, its focus on culturally and ethnically competent health care, and its recruitment of male and female students nationally and internationally. This emphasis has allowed the school to establish active exchange programs in countries on five continents: Australia, Brazil, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico, Spain, and Taiwan. SONHS faculty members have also mentored nursing researchers and educators now practicing in diverse regions of the world, including in Chile, Haiti, Korea, Thailand, and Turkey.

From 431 students in 2004 to a student population of more than 850 today, the SONHS is doing its part to address the nursing shortage. The Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program, introduced in 2008, enables students with bachelor’s degrees in fields other than nursing to earn the B.S.N. degree in 12 months. Other degree programs, such as the new D.N.P. in nurse anesthesia, are drawing large numbers of applicants. Reorganization of the master’s programs, with increased emphasis on gerontology content, responds to our nation’s rapidly growing aging population.