When University of Utah student nurses Ray Cameron and Richard Johnson were scheduled to go into the community for their public health training, a notice was placed in the daily newspaper so the community wouldn't be alarmed.

"We were fearful that when they knocked on doors, housewives might not believe that they were student nurses and refuse to let them in," said Ada L. Burt, then associate professor of public health nursing, in the 1988 College of Nursing publication"Highlights."Cameron and Johnson went on to earn their baccalaureate degrees in nursing in 1959.

Cameron, who retired from the U.S. Public Health Service as a captain, said in a recent interview that he and Johnson were excluded from only one class during their training: female catheterization.

But their gender posed a challenge at graduation, because the college convocation had traditionally ended with a capping ceremony.

"I designed a patch that we wore on our shoulder," said Cameron, who later was trained as a nurse anesthetist.

Cameron and Johnson paved the way for other male graduates. Now 25 percent of the college's students are male, compared to the national average of 18 percent.

As she reflects upon the college's golden anniversary this month, Dean Linda Amos notes the vast changes in the nursing profession.

The college's first graduates typically went to work in hospitals upon graduation. Their job entailed carrying out doctors' orders.

"Now it's more of a collaborative, interdependent style of practice," said Athleen Godfrey, clinical professor and a member of the nursing college's Class of 1958.

Today's graduates work in community settings, whether giving care as home health care nurses, working as medical helicopter nurses or answering medical hot-lines.

The school offers graduate training ranging from oncology nurs-ing to nurse practitioners, who are licensed to diagnose problems and prescribe medication.

"There are so many options. I tell our students if they get burned out, it's their owned darned fault," said Penny Brooke, assistant dean, an attorney who also has a master's degree in nursing.

As the decades have rolled by, thearea of nursing research has mushroomed and gained clout.

Kathleen B. Mooney, director of the oncology specialists program, said nursing research has been bolstered by the growing number of nurses who earn doctoral degrees.

Nurses who observe problems at a patient's bedside are doubly motivated to seek answers.

"Historically, nurses have seen problems in health care that haven't been answered well and aren't the focus of a lot of research. That's pushed them to address those needs not being addressed by other researchers," Mooney said.

Generally speaking, nurse research complements medical research. It often focuses on psychosocial issues in health and illness such as symptom management, healthy lifestyles and prevention.

"Those issues have been around for a long time. I think there's been kind of a momentum building of nurses starting to address this, and more and more nurses having the research training to conduct the studies," Mooney said.

For instance, research is under way at the U. College of Nursing to determine what patients are at greater risk for developing bed sores.

Researchers also are exploring whether an appropriate amount of exercise can combat fatigue caused by breast cancer treatments. Another project, to be funded by a $1 million grant, is investigating whether journal writing or providing cancer patients with detailed information about radiation therapy before they start treatment can help them better cope with the disease.

While most research is conducted out of the public view, nursing uniforms comprise the most obvious changes in the school's history. While the college will observe its 50th anniversary May 14-15, the U. has been involved in nursing training since 1913.

Uniforms over the years have run the gamut of ankle-length white cotton pinafores to hospital scrubs and polo shirts. The starched white caps are gone, as are dresses.

"It's funny. People tell me when I go out into the community, `You don't look like a nurse,' " said Godfrey, gently laughing as she recalls the fight to permit nurses to wear pants.

"That was a hard-fought battle by traditionalists who didn't want us to give up our starched white dresses," Godfrey said, who also holds a master's degree in maternal-child nursing.

Today's nurses not only have the benefit of more user-friendly uniforms, they have the advantage of vastly improved medical equipment and research.

In Godfrey's days as a student nurse, administering suction entailed juggling a contraption of three glass bottles connected with lengths of rubber tubing.

In 1998, a wall-mounted suction apparatus is the staple at every hospital bed. Many patient rooms are equipped with desktop computers, patient-controlled analgesic pumps and bedside oxygen.

But in the final analysis, nursing is not the latest gadget or device. It's caregiving.

"Part of the caring is knowing the most you can to provide the best care possible," Godfrey said.

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Additional Information

Milestones in U. program

1948 - Nursing school attains College of Nursing status. College was housed in a one-story surplus barracks building, which was restructured into classrooms, offices and lab space.

1955 - The college's baccalaureate program receives full accreditation from the National League of Nursing. The college begins work on a master of science in nursing degree. Most classes conducted at Salt Lake General Hospital Nurses Home. Students had to commute to the U. campus for general education classes.

1961 - New graduate programs earn accreditation.

1965 - Four students admitted to inaugural nurse midwifery program; college receives grant to start child nursing graduate program.

1969 - College of Nursing moves into new building on campus, located southwest of what is now University Hospital.

1974 - Thirteen registered nurses admitted to new Family Nurse Practitioner Program.

1977 - First doctoral students admitted to U. College of Nursing.

1979 - Occupational Health Nurse Program established.

1982 - Utah State Board of Regents assigns U. Gerontology Program to the College of Nursing.

- Neonatal Nurse Practitioner Program admits first student.

1983 - Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant funds one-year program to prepare school nurse practitioners.

- Pediatric nurse practitioner program begins admits first students.

1985 - Office of Community Service and Faculty Practice established.

1986 - Student microcomputer lab opens. College goes on to offer numerous distance learning opportunities via EDNET and other media.

1990 - Graduate program offerings increas to include teaching nursing, oncology nursing, nursing informatics and an interdisciplinary program in early intervention.

1993 - College of Nursing receives another eight-year accreditation from the National League of Nursing.

1995 - U.S. News and World Report lists U. among best nursing graduate schools in the nation.

1998 - College observes 50th anniversary.

Source: Excellence, spring 1998, official publication of the U. College of Nursing.