TRAVERSE CITY — The first graduates of Northwestern Michigan Colleges Associate Degree in Nursing Program will reunite for a recognition reception and dinner on May 9 at the First Congregational Church in Traverse City to mark their milestone 50 years in the nursing profession.
Class of 1963 graduates also are extending the dinner invitation to this year’s nursing graduates, members of the college’s 50th graduating class, to share in both their celebration and in observance of National Nurses Week May 6-12.
Along with the dinner, Class of ‘63 nurses also will be recognized at the NMC Barbecue on May 19 and again on Aug. 1 during the Grand Traverse Pavilions’ Concert on the Lawn series, said Barb Mikowski, reunion coordinator and member of the Class of 1963.
Mikowski said it was Les Biederman who spearheaded the Associate Degree in Nursing program at NMC, the first community college in northern Michigan to offer it.
“In 1960, the college hired Ernestine Johnson to develop the program,” Mikowski said. “She trained at Michigan State University and Western Reserve, and as the program’s first director, she was excellent.”
Mikowski recalled that the program, which began in 1961, was academically demanding.
“We started with 34 students in the fall of 1961, by the second term we were down to 18,” she said. “There was a lot of pressure on us because all eyes were on us to succeed.”
Mikowski said the first class graduated 15 nurses in 1963, but it was only the beginning of what she believes has been an invaluable contribution over the years to nurses and to patient care in the area.
Presently about 170 students are enrolled in all four semesters of the college’s nursing programs, said Laura Schmidt, the current director of NMC’s Nursing and Allied Health Department, adding the program offers both the Associate Degree in Nursing and a certificate in Practical Nursing.
“The Class of 2012-2013 graduated 34 students in December and 38 more this spring. The new graduates must then go on to pass licensing exams to receive their Registered Nurse or Licensed Practical Nurse designations,” Schmidt said.
Mikowski reflected on how much the field of nursing has changed in the 50 years since her graduation.
“When we were at the hospital smoking was allowed,” she said. “Patients had ashtrays in their rooms, and part of our duties was to keep the ashtrays clean.”
She said back then patients endured much longer hospital stays.
“A patient having cataract surgery back then spent 10 days in bed with their head immobilized with sandbags. We had to do total care,” she said.
Today’s nurses do more decision-making than in the past, Schmidt said.
Mikowski’s advice for the 50th graduating class is to always remember they are there for the patient.
“You are their advocate first, and remember, we are there to deliver safe care,” she said.