Winona State celebrates 50 years of excellence in nursing


From: Bill McBreen
Dean, College of Nursing and Health Sciences
Winona State University

This year the nursing program at Winona State University turns 50. Our first class of 16 nursing students graduated in 1968 and moved on to distinguished careers as nurses in hospitals, public health agencies, nursing education programs, the armed services, and in roles in advanced nursing practice. Since then, the WSU College of Nursing has grown to an annual graduating class of over 150 pre-licensure nursing graduates; 150 associate degree to baccalaureate (RN to BS) graduates; and over 40 master’s and doctor of nursing practice graduates. I can’t imagine that those first 16 graduates realized they were creating the foundation of what would become a tradition of excellence in nursing education that has transcended dramatic changes in health care delivery, nursing practice, and teaching and learning practices.

From its very inception, the WSU nursing program was founded on a commitment to dedicated partnerships and collaborative work throughout Southeast Minnesota, Western Wisconsin, and Northeast Iowa. Our nursing program was launched in 1964 in response to requests from physicians at Winona Health Services. Our pre-licensure program in Rochester was established to address the need for nursing graduates in the Rochester area. Our RN to BS program was developed in response to requests from associate degree-prepared nurses for accessible baccalaureate education — and has since expanded to address demand throughout Southeast Minnesota. Our first graduate programs in nursing were established in 1987 to fulfill workforce demand for nurses with advanced preparation in nursing practice, administration and education. More recently, increasing demands for clinical nurse specialists and nurse practitioners have been the driving force behind establishment of our advanced practice nursing programs, including the additions of the acute care nurse practitioner program and the psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioner program, which, again, were both developed in response to the health care needs of the region. At each and every turn, we have grown in response to the evolving needs of nursing practice.

The other commitment that has been foundational to the success of the WSU nursing program is excellence in teaching, driven by outstanding nursing faculty and supported by the best administrative assistants and student support staff anywhere. I have served at five different universities in nursing education and never have I worked with a faculty so dedicated to the students they teach, the university they serve, and the profession they love. Even after retirement, our faculty members remain involved with the program and close to the current nursing faculty, providing support not only through their presence but through generous financial support for our students.

I joined the faculty at WSU in 2000 and have served as dean of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences since 2008. As I reflect on my time at WSU, it strikes me that regardless of who made up the nursing faculty and support staff, and regardless of who was leading the faculty at any given point in the history of the program, the traditions of excellence and commitment to preparing clinically strong, ethical, responsible, and most of all, caring nurses has never wavered.

As we look to the next 50 years, I can guarantee that our commitment to remaining connected to and in concert with nursing practice and our collective tradition of teaching excellence will not change. We will continue to respond to the needs of the region and devise solutions for the challenges that we will face, including how we will increase the number of nursing graduates who choose to practice in rural areas, where the need for nurses is particularly concerning. I have every confidence that we will figure it out, just as our nursing faculty members throughout the history of the program have successfully worked and collaborated to overcome all other challenges.

Happy birthday, Winona State nursing, and thank you to all who have contributed to our traditions and ongoing reputation for excellence!


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