Feature Stories

Emerging Leaders for Emerging Needs

UIW School of Nursing

This is a landmark year for UIW's nursing program. As we celebrate 125 years of university history, we also recognize the 75th anniversary of the nursing program - its humble beginnings and continuous progress in service to others.

Its story begins in the late 1860s when a cholera epidemic swept through San Antonio. There was no health care in the area, so three Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word responded by coming here from France to open the Santa Rosa Infirmary, now part of the Christus Health System. The first nurses were sisters who were trained “on the job” by the physicians. Later, they received formal instruction at the Santa Rosa Training School and went on to develop education programs for others. From the beginning, the nurse leaders at Santa Rosa realized that nurses should have the advantage of a college education. A breakthrough came in 1929 when it was announced that nurses could obtain a Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN) from Incarnate Word College

And 75 years begin …

Emergency Nursing
Emergency Nursing

Incarnate Word awarded the first BSN degrees to two sisters in 1930, and by 1935, 10 students had completed their degrees.

Throughout the nursing program's early years, it emphasized preparing nurse leaders in two areas of shortage: public health nursing and nursing education. Health-care leaders in Texas praised Incarnate Word for its foresight in addressing this great need. To continue this effort, the College needed a well-educated nursing faculty, so it began a program to prepare nurse educators. In the two decades to follow, about half of the nursing students were majoring in public health; the others in education.

By 1942, the nursing program at the college became the first in Texas to receive full accreditation from the Association of Collegiate Schools of Nursing. That recognition resulted in Incarnate Word faculty serving as consultants in Texas and Mexico to schools trying to achieve accreditation. The program has been continuously accredited ever since; currently by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

Brigadier General Lillian Dunlap
Brigadier General Lillian Dunlap

The 1950s introduced a basic “generic” nursing program. In the 1980s, it added a master-level program with a unique curriculum deeply embedded in historical roots of public health and education. Today the graduate program is again a leader in nursing education as the only program in Texas that prepares graduates for the new role of clinical nurse leader.

A constant theme throughout 75 years has been leadership development: leaders for nursing practice, education, and administration. Graduates are prepared to practice the values we inherited from the first sisters who were risk takers, who focused on emerging needs and always said that whatever they did was for “the glory of God, the benefit of others, and the trouble for ourselves.”

Over time, Incarnate Word has earned the distinction of being the only college or university nationally to have produced five nursing graduates who achieved the rank of Brigadier General (BG) and head the nurse corps of the U.S. Army and Air Force. BGs Lillian Dunlap, Madelyn N. Parks, Bettye H. Simmons, Linda J. Stierle, and Sue Ellen Turner all graduated from IWC and went on to achieve the highest levels of leadership during and after their military careers. Each received military honors, and each left their indelible mark on UIW and U.S. history.

Col. Madelyn Parks, left, incoming chief, Army Nurse Corps and Sister Theresa Stanley join General Dunlap at her farewell gala, August 1975
Col. Madelyn Parks, left, incoming chief, Army Nurse Corps and Sister Theresa Stanley join General Dunlap at her farewell gala, August 1975

Sister Charles Marie Frank, program director in the 1940s, believed that every educated nurse has a responsibility for leadership. She served as president of the Texas Graduate Nurse Association, which later became the Texas Nurses Association. In 1964, she and fellow sisters established a mission for thousands of displaced and impoverished Indians in Peru that still thrives today. The university’s current school of nursing building bears her name.

Today, the story continues with the next generation of nursing professionals, whose presence at UIW honors the legacy of the many great leaders and graduates who dared to lead the charge in health care.