Once an experiment, Yale School of Nursing begins its second century

November 9, 2023

By Mallory Locklear | YaleNews

At a recent School of Nursing centennial kickoff event, President Peter Salovey and Dean Azita Emami discussed the state of nursing and where to go next.
Yale School of Nursing Dean Azita Emami, President Peter Salovey, and Rajiv Shah, president of the Rockefeller Foundation.

Yale School of Nursing Dean Azita Emami, President Peter Salovey, and Rajiv Shah, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, discuss the next century of nursing. (Photos by Mara Lavitt)

Yale School of Nursing began as an experiment.

In 1923, after a national committee concluded that the training of nurses in the United States was, in short, “inadequate,” the Rockefeller Foundation funded a new approach to nursing education.

With an initial $150,000 gift from the foundation, (an additional $1 million would come later), the Yale University School of Nursing became the country’s first nursing school where training took place in an academic setting rather than under an apprenticeship model, and that stood as an autonomous unit rather than within another university department.

Today, as Yale School of Nursing (YSN) celebrates its 100th year, leaders at Yale and in the nursing field are recognizing the many ways this novel approach has changed the profession.

Of course, what began as an experiment quickly became an exemplar, growing and developing in significant ways over the past century,” Yale President Peter Salovey said during a recent panel discussion at YSN kicking off a series of centennial events.

As a first-of-its-kind institution, the school established new approaches to nursing pedagogy. It was among the first nursing schools to grant a master’s degree and by 1975, with 10 specialty programs and tracks on offer, it established itself at the forefront of educating clinical nurse specialists, nurse-midwives, and nurse practitioners at the graduate level.

Also during the 1970s, the school broke the mold with what is now known as the Graduate Entry Prespecialty in Nursing, a three-year program that allows students without any nursing experience to earn a Master of Science in Nursing degree.

At that point in time, just thinking about making a non-nurse an advanced nurse practitioner in three years was something that no one would believe could be accomplished,” YSN Dean Azita Emami said during the same event. “But we did it.”

And there were other firsts.

Annie Warburton Goodrich, the school’s first dean, was also the first female dean in Yale’s history.

And back in 1927, when Yale awarded its first bachelor’s degree in nursing, the faculty chose apricot as the color to represent the degree on graduates’ academic hoods. It became the accepted color for the discipline around the world.

President Salovey and other attendees as Dean Emami made introductory remarks.President Salovey and other attendees as Dean Emami made introductory remarks.

Of fundamental importance’

A century of firsts now being celebrated at YSN really began a few years earlier.

In 1918, the Rockefeller Foundation gathered a conference to assess nursing training in the United States. That conference eventually led to the Committee to Study Nursing Education, chaired by Charles-Edward Amory Winslow, founder of the Yale Department of Public Health. Five years later, the committee published what became known as “The Goldmark Report,” named after committee secretary and labor law reform advocate Josephine Goldmark.

Among the report’s conclusions were “that the development and strengthening of university schools of nursing of a high grade for the training of leaders is of fundamental importance in the furtherance of nursing education.”

It also called for endowments for establishing university schools of nursing. It was the report’s findings that led the Rockefeller Foundation to fund YSN.

On Sept. 21, a century after that historic gift, the Rockefeller Foundation’s current president, Rajiv Shah, joined Salovey and Emami for a conversation about how that landmark moment changed the education of nurses in America, Yale’s role in forging these changes, and the state of nursing today.

(Their conversation is part of a series of events being hosted by YSN in celebration of its centennial. Others include a discussion with Tonya Lewis Lee about her maternal mortality crisis film “Aftershock,” an exhibit at the Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library, and a series of faculty lectures.)

During the conversation, Shah, Salovey, and Emami discussed how the field has changed, the connection between climate change and human health in the modern era, and the public image of nursing. They also discussed how health care can continue to be improved — and the important role Yale School of Nursing continues to play.

Emami asked how the United States might address its current nursing shortage and prevent burnout among nurses.

President Salovey and Dean EmamiPresident Salovey and Dean Emami announce a gift from an anonymous donor that will fund nursing student scholarships.

While a nursing shortage has affected the U.S. for decades, the problem was greatly exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some studies have found that nearly 100,000 registered nurses left the field in the past two years, that more than 45% or nurses report feeling burned out, and that the country may need an additional 450,000 nurses by 2025 in order to meet health care needs.

Part of the solution, Salovey said, would be to end the debt incurred by many nurses in the U.S. as they pursue an education, a sentiment that drew applause from the audience.

Others agree. As Emami later announced, an anonymous donor recently gave YSN a $11.1 million gift — the largest in the school’s history — to eventually provide full-ride scholarships to six students every academic year. The gift will be matched by the university.

I believe there is a widespread consensus that the American health care system is far from delivering optimal results,” said Emami. “There is less consensus about how to make it better. The short answer is ‘nurses.’

As one of the leading schools of nursing, we have an opportunity and an obligation to educate the nurses who will lead in creating change and delivering better health for all people,” she added. “YSN was a paradigm shift at its founding, and we will be that once again in our second century.”

As a “pipeline” of exceptional health leaders, Salovey added, Yale School of Nursing is a vital contributor to the university’s mission of improving the world for this and future generations.

In keeping with our theme of imagining YSN’s next century, I am filled with optimism and gratitude,” he said. “I am filled, too, with a special fondness for YSN’s inspired work, as the son of a nurse.”

This piece originally appeared in YourYale, a university-wide staff publication.