Editor’s Note: This is the first installment in a three-part series
The University of Central Arkansas (UCA) Department of Nursing was established 45 years ago, in 1967. It can trace its beginnings to the closing of the nursing program at Ouachita Baptist University (OBU). The OBU nursing program was short lived and began in September 1965 and ended in spring 1967. OBU had taken over the program from Arkansas Baptist Hospital but could not continue to operate it due to a lack of financial resources.
In a letter dated April 19, 1967, from the president of OBU, Ralph Phelps, Jr., to the OBU School of Nursing faculty, the reasons for ending the nursing program at OBU were discussed. According to President Phelps, “It is with the deepest possible regret that I must inform you that the Executive Committee of our Board of Trustees today voted to discontinue our program in nursing education after this present school year.
For several weeks we have searched desperately for funds with which to keep the School of Nursing in business. Every possible source suggested by anyone was explored. I presented, without recommendation, these facts to the trustees today. After a lengthy discussion, they came to the conclusion that the prospects of raising the $75,000 to make up the nursing deficit this next year were dim and the chances of raising the anticipated $100,000 deficit next year were even more dim. They therefore concluded that we were simply unable to stay in the nursing business. I should like to stress that their decision was based on the economic factor alone.”
OBU attempted to raise the necessary funds to keep their nursing program operating but fell far short of what was needed. In an April 22, 1967, article in the Log Cabin Democrat, OBU President Phelps was quoted as saying, “We had not one single offer of a penny from anybody but a dear lady in the country, outside of Arkadelphia. We had some offers from business people to help temporarily — not large amounts and with the provision we would not come back again. There were no offers of help from the medical profession.”
In a separate memorandum dated April 20, 1967, from OBU President Phelps to the School of Nursing, President Phelps stated in part, “To have retained the School of Nursing would have lessened the chances of our having a quality school at Arkadelphia. The trustees were not willing to do this. While the experience is a heart-breaking one for us here, the real loser is the State of Arkansas, which is woefully short of nurses. However, we have been unable to enlist philanthropic givers as we had thought we could when we started this program. Why Arkansas does not see the nursing need we do not know. But it doesn’t.”
President Phelps’ comments about Arkansas having a nursing shortage were not without merit. According to a 1969 report titled, “Registered Nurse Plan: Supplement to the Self-Evaluation Report of State College of Arkansas Department of Nursing,” Arkansas had the least number of nurses in the nation. According to that report, the southern states averaged 215 nurses per 100,000 people in 1962 but Arkansas only had 121 nurses per 100,000 people. In 1968 the national average was 298 nurses per 100,000 people with the District of Columbia having the most nurses with 529 per 100,000 and Arkansas having the least with 142 nurses per 100,000 people.
The severe shortage of nurses was also mentioned in an editorial in the May 5, 1967 edition of The Echo (UCA student newspaper) which stated the need for more nurses in Arkansas. According to The Echo, “Interested in a nursing career? SCA will institute a baccalaureate nursing program in June. The opportunities for professional nurses are excellent. The demand is high and is expected to continue to be greater than the supply. Hospital administrators in Arkansas estimate the state is 5,500 nurses short now.”
Less than one week after OBU President Phelps notified the OBU School of Nursing faculty that their department was closing, a memorandum from J.B. Gilbreath, an administrator for the Arkansas Baptist Medical Center, stated that State College of Arkansas (now UCA) had been approved for the program.
In a memorandum from J.A. Gilbreath to Arkansas Baptist Medical Center department heads, dated April 24, 1967, Gilbreath stated, “Mrs. Nell Balkman, president of the State Board of Nurse Examiners, has informed me today that the State Board has approved the State College of Arkansas at Conway beginning a degree program in nursing. Our Ouachita students may transfer to the Conway program and any students who were to have come to our hospital on June 1 may carry out their original plans except that their degree will be from Conway. Dr. Snow will make an announcement in the papers sometime tomorrow and therefore our crisis is passed…All those faculty members desiring to transfer to Conway may do so.”
Dr. Silas Snow, UCA’s fifth and longest tenured president, who served from 1953 to 1975, made an announcement about UCA’s newly created nursing program in the April 25, 1967 edition of the Log Cabin Democrat. According to the Log Cabin Democrat, “State College of Arkansas, with the blessing of the State Board of Nurse Examiners, a pledge of cooperation from the Arkansas Baptist Medical Center and offers of financial support, will institute a baccalaureate nursing program in less than two months.
SCA, whose state appropriations are fixed until July 1969, accepted Governor Rockefeller’s personal offer of $25,000 a year for a two-year period provided the gift would be matched by the Conway community. College officials say they have been assured by Conway business leaders that the citizenry here will raise $25,000 per year for two years to match the Rockefeller gift. Snow said the college in the meantime would investigate the possible assistance of federal funds to finance the school.”
The first and only degree initially offered was the Bachelor of Science (B.S.) with a major in nursing. This degree should not be confused with the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (B.S.N.) which came later. The first two years of the program were taught on the UCA campus and included courses in general education, chemistry and other science courses. The final two years of the program were a cooperative effort between UCA and the Arkansas Baptist Medical Center in Little Rock.
One of the reasons that UCA was chosen for the nursing program was the recent completion of the new B.A. Lewis Science Center. The new Lewis Science Center, completed in 1967, was inspected by officials from the Arkansas Baptist Medical Center (ABMC). The ABMC administrative staff was favorably impressed with UCA’s facilities which proved to be important in helping UCA secure the nursing program.
Dr. A.E. Burdick, Dean of the College and President Snow appeared before the Arkansas State Board of Nurse Examiners to make UCA’s case to acquire the program. According to the April 25, 1967 edition of the Log Cabin Democrat, “The college was given conditional approval for its program by the board and its chairman, Mrs. Nell T. Balkman. Burdick said the school would apply to the National League for Nursing for accreditation for the college’s new program. Consultants, probably from the University of California at Los Angeles, will assist the college in planning its program, Burdick said.”
UCA was given official approval from the National League for Nursing in September 1967 to accept nursing students into its program. According to the October 6, 1967 edition of The Echo, “Dr. Silas D. Snow, SCA president, said the board of Directors of the National League gave its approval after an examination of SCA’s plans and facilities at Little Rock and Conway September 13. The approval, he said, took the form of what the League calls ‘reasonable assurance of accreditation.’ He stressed that such a rating is all that any beginning nursing department could receive from the League. Full accreditation can come only after there is a product for the League to judge. Immediately after our first class of nurses has been graduated, we will seek full accreditation from the League.”
J.A. Gilbreath of ABMC was happy that UCA was selected to operate the nursing program and was quoted in the Log Cabin Democrat as saying, “With the progress that the college has made in the past few years and with its promise for the future, we’re pleased to be a part of the program.” Gilbreath was also favorably impressed with the enthusiasm exhibited by the UCA administration and he promised that ABMC would do all it could to support the nursing program at UCA.
It was anticipated that UCA would have about the same number of students registering for nursing classes as OBU, but the number was exactly half as many for the first year. During the first fall semester at UCA (1967) there were 130 students enrolled in the new nursing program. Of the 130 nursing majors, 102 students were registered as freshmen and sophomores and 28 were registered as juniors.
Author’s Note: Sources for this article include The Echo, Log Cabin Democrat, State College of Arkansas Bulletins, and materials from M12-02 UCA Department of Nursing Collection held by the UCA Archives. The article for next week will look at the advancement of the nursing program at UCA.