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A textbook model for progress

Nursing school that began in a hospital now runs its own simulated medical facility

The School of Nursing began 35 years ago at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth with few faculty and only 67 students. It is now among the 20 largest nursing schools in the country with more than 100 faculty and 1,000 students.

1976 Newspaper article on Nursing school

Myrna Pickard, the School of Nursing's first dean, oversaw the school's move from Fort Worth to UT Arlington in 1976.

The school added degree programs and centers to accommodate the growth and now features the Smart Hospital, a 23-bed simulated environment with 30 life-sized computerized patients, called manikins, to educate students in acute, trauma, emergency, intensive and primary care interventions (see Nursing education reinvented).

The school’s roots date to 1906 when John Peter Smith Hospital’s Diploma Nursing Program was established. In 1965 the American Nurses Association decreed that higher education institutions should provide all nursing education and that hospital diploma programs be phased out. By July 1971, plans to open a nursing school through The University of Texas System received authorization from the Texas Legislature. Courses began in September 1972.

“The transition went much smoother than I anticipated,” said Myrna Pickard, the school’s first dean and then nurse administrator of the JPS diploma program. “It was an exciting time for all of us.”

Dr. Pickard served half time as nurse administrator of the diploma program until the last class graduated in 1973 while also serving as the school’s associate dean. She, Mary Ellen Wyers and Frances Jarrett comprised the faculty for the first group of students. After the diploma program ended, Pickard was officially named dean.

Support from the Tarrant County Hospital District aided the new school’s progress. Students registered in Fort Worth for lower-division prerequisite courses and in Arlington for upper-division work.

UT Arlington provided health and library services, and assisted with financial aid, printing, purchasing, recreational activities and a host of other services beyond John Peter Smith’s reach. Seven of the JPS diploma program faculty members completed master’s degrees to qualify as faculty of the school.

What began as The UT System School of Nursing in Fort Worth became a component of UT Arlington in 1976 and began its move to Arlington.

“We felt so fortunate to be able to move to the Arlington campus,” Pickard said. “It made things much more convenient for us.”

UT Arlington President Wendell Nedderman and Vice President for Academic Affairs W.A. Baker supported the relocation to a temporary site in the new Business Building in September 1977.

At JPS, 39 faculty taught 350 students. With the move to Arlington, the faculty increased to 53 and enrollment to 525 undergraduate and graduate students.

The school quickly grew too large for its temporary home. The 1975-76 Legislature designated $50,000 in planning money, but there was no progress on a new building until Pickard presented a request to the UT System administration to use the UT San Antonio School of Nursing as a blueprint.

“We definitely had a big part in planning the new building,” she said. “The architects worked closely with faculty and staff, and we got what we wanted.”

Construction began in summer 1980 on the 154,000-square-foot, six-story Nursing Building. It was completed in 1982, ending treks between Fort Worth and Arlington for students and faculty.

By 1992 the School of Nursing was conferring more baccalaureate degrees than any other nursing school in Texas.

“It’s almost a textbook model for how one develops a sound academic program that includes undergraduate and graduate work,” Dr. Baker said in a May 1995 article in The Shorthorn. “New programs have been added, new responsibilities have been taken on, and a very credible research program has been developed where none existed. That school has gone into programs that weren’t necessarily traditional for a school of nursing.”

When Pickard retired in 1995, the building was renamed Pickard Hall.

“My time at UT Arlington was certainly a period of development and change,” she said. “But thanks to a good administration and good support system, I was pleased with the way things went.”

And with how they’re going today. Under the leadership of Elizabeth Poster, who succeeded Pickard as dean, the school has continued to flourish. The Smart Hospital is one of six sites recognized as a Center of Excellence in Simulation by Laerdal Medical.

— Jim Patterson

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