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Celebrating a History of Excellence: 75 Years of Nursing at the University of Utah

Media Contact:

Suzanne Winchester
Associate Director of Public Affairs, University of Utah Health

The University of Utah College of Nursing (CON) celebrates its 75th anniversary, marking a legacy of excellence, innovation, and dedication to health care education and practice. In conjunction with Homecoming Week and Alumni Weekend, the school’s distinguished alumni, supporters, past and present faculty and staff, and students will all be celebrated in gatherings on the U of U campus.

College of Nursing 75 years

“For 75 years, the College of Nursing has been dedicated to shaping the future of health care through the education and empowerment of our nurses,” said Marla J. De Jong, Ph.D., RN, CCNS, FAAN, dean of the college. “We will play a critical role in advancing care that is focused on driving innovation, testing new models of care, and delivering high-quality patient, family, and community care.” 

De Jong continued, “This anniversary reminds us of whose shoulders we stand upon in achieving our current success, and the foundation we must sustain to inspire the generations that follow.” She became the seventh dean of the college in 2020 when the medical community was dealing with the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Throughout its history, the CON adapted and evolved to meet the ever-changing needs of health care. One of the most important evolutions of the nursing profession came with the development of formalized education programs for nurses in the late 19th century. In the 20th century, the University of Utah helped to build upon that history with the founding of the College of Nursing, which has led to improvements in the quality of care and services nursing school graduates can provide to their patients today and in the future. 

Nurses in a classroom
Nurses in the 1970s receiving training at the University of Utah College of Nursing. Courtesy: University of Utah library archives

During the last seven and a half decades, the college has expanded its educational offerings and degrees to include the first nurse-midwifery program west of the Mississippi River in 1965 and several doctoral degrees in 1977. As the demand for the special care and attention nurses provide continues to grow, the College of Nursing continues to respond. In 2022, faculty at the college stepped up proactively to address the nursing shortage in Utah and surrounding states by increasing its annual enrollment by 25% to 180 students per year.  

“It’s vital that we continue to educate, train, and deploy the highest quality and most compassionate nurses in Utah and throughout the Mountain West to provide the health care that residents of our region have come to expect and deserve,” said Michael Good, M.D., CEO of University of Utah Health. “We are so proud of the University of Utah College of Nursing’s 75-year legacy of excellence, and we look forward to the transformative care that our graduates will provide to millions of patients during the next 75 years and beyond.”

Events to commemorate the College of Nursing’s 75th Anniversary celebration include a gala followed by a laser drone show at Rice-Eccles Stadium and an induction ceremony honoring a new class of Half Century Society members who are celebrating 50 or more years since their graduation from the school. 

One of this year’s inductees, Stella Ann Ross, graduated from the College of Nursing in 1959 not long after joining the Navy. She later served in Vietnam aboard the USS Repose, a hospital ship.

CON training
Nurses now receive hands-on training in the College of Nursing Simulation Center, an innovative and high-tech hub for experiential learning.

In the book “Vietnam Nurses on the Ready: Seventeen Personal Accounts,” Ross recounted how she came to be a nurse. “I tell friends I became a nurse because I got in the wrong registration line at the University of Utah, which is true (more or less). I wanted to be a physical therapist. So, I really was in the wrong program, but I liked nursing so much, I didn’t want to change.”

On Saturday, September 23, all those attending anniversary celebrations are invited to join thousands of other University of Utah alumni at a Homecoming Alumni Tailgate at noon before kickoff at Rice-Eccles Stadium between the UCLA Bruins and the Utah Utes at 1:30 pm.  

As for the anniversary celebration, De Jong promises an “engaging time, with events that connect all in attendance through their shared appreciation for the College of Nursing” and its special place in the University of Utah. 

You can learn more about the rich history of the University of Utah College of Nursing:

The History of the College of Nursing, Timeline

The History of the College of Nursing, Digital Exhibition