21 December, 2017
Nursing has long been one of the fastest-growing occupations in the U.S., and the on-going demand for educated compassionate nurses has always been high. Fifty years ago, what was then called Gadsden State Junior College tried to help alleviate the nursing shortage by implementing a registered nursing program.
“Even as the College was getting started in 1965, there was a vision for a registered nursing program,” said Dr. Martha Lavender, president of Gadsden State. “This vision became a reality in 1967 thanks to the leaders at our College and in our community.”
Until 1967, those wanting to be nurses in the area had to enroll at a four-year university or locally in hospital-based programs at institutions such as Anniston Memorial Hospital and Holy Name of Jesus Hospital.
“These hospital programs had very selective admission programs that required the students to be unmarried, live onsite in a dormitory and provide free labor to the facility,” she said. “Gadsden State’s mission was to create an associate degree program that provided technically-skilled nurses to meet the workforce demands.”
Gadsden State’s first graduating class produced 11 new nurses. They were Mary Pearce Adams, Mary Bailey, Karen McCreless, Y.C. Parris Jr., Paulette Tinker Self, Florence Dial, Eva Knowles Bailey, John Lavender, Diana Stamler, Billy Raines and Georgia Sewell. Graduates remember the first nursing school director was Sister Anne Joachim Hogan, who was “on loan” from Holy Name of Jesus Hospital to help start the nursing program at Gadsden State. Gayle Adams Hawkins was the first faculty member.
From 1967 to 1985, the Gadsden State Junior College nursing program offered the Associate in Science degree with a major in nursing. In 1985, the Alabama Board of Education began merging various colleges together to increase efficiencies and improve the focus on workforce development and training. It was at that time that Gadsden State Community College was created by the merger with the Alabama Technical School (now Gadsden State’s East Broad Street Campus) and the Gadsden State Technical Institute (now the Valley Street Campus).
“The Valley Street Campus offered a much-needed practical nursing program, which further enhanced the healthcare workforce in our region,” Lavender said.
Currently, Gadsden State students can take RN classes on the Wallace Drive Campus and Gadsden State Cherokee while the LPN Completion Program is available at the McClellan Center in Anniston.
“We also offer a flexible option for working students who want to pursue a nursing degree through our NOW program, which offers classes at night, online and on the weekends,” she said. “Our program also articulates with various baccalaureate programs across the state. This facilitates our graduates in advancing to the bachelor’s or master’s degree.”
Today at Gadsden State, there’s a total enrollment of 353 in the nursing program with 234 enrolled in the concept-based curriculum. CBC is designed to provide a stackable credential for students.
“After three semesters, a student can stop and take the LPN licensing exam and enter the workforce,” she said. “If the student chooses to continue and work, he or she can complete two more semesters and sit for the RN licensing exam.”
Gadsden State students consistently pass the National Council Licensure Examination required of nurses to practice, Lavender said. In 2016, the most recent statistics show that 91.6 percent of the College’s RN students passed the NCLEX with 100 percent of the LPN students passing.
“We are very proud of the over 4,000 nursing students who have graduated from Gadsden State over the last 50 years,” she said. “They have made meaningful contributions in our communities by caring for others. Our nurses play a fundamental and critical role in transforming healthcare for all citizens. Nurses are guiding, directing and contributing to an improved healthcare system that leads to improved quality of life and improved health outcomes.”