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Nursing Program at Winston-Salem State

In response to a serious shortage of nurses in North Carolina, Governor William B. Umstead issued an executive order on August 1,1953 to authorize and fund two four-year nursing schools. In light of the need particularly for African-American nurses, traditionally African-American Colleges were chosen for these schools. One was to be at the Agricultural and Technical College in Greensboro and the other at Winston-Salem Teachers College in Winston-Salem.

Responding quickly to the call, the first class of nursing students arrived at Winston-Salem Teachers College (Winston-Salem State University since 1969) in September 1953. Classes for these 33 students were held in the Student Health Center building until the first building designated for the School of Nursing opened three years later, in 1956. Initially, clinical experience for the students was arranged at Kate Bitting Reynolds Memorial Hospital in Winston-Salem. K. B. Reynolds Hospital, like many hospitals during the 1950s, trained its own nurses and already had a three-year training program.

The North Carolina Board of Nurse Registration and Nurse Education found the facilities at Reynolds Memorial to be inadequate for the new students and listed shortcomings in obstetrics, pediatrics, and psychiatry. The Board encouraged the new school to seek opportunities for its students beyond the one hospital. Undaunted, Nursing School administrators established affiliations for pediatric nursing at Fordham Hospital in New York City and for psychiatric experience at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, NY. In 1955, the NC Board of Nurse Registration gave the School of Nursing full accreditation.

These clinical affiliations were successful, and, soon, additional opportunities for clinical experience were arranged with Meharry Medical School of Nursing in Nashville, Tennessee, Grady Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, Crownsville Hospital in Maryland, and Harlem Hospital in New York City. Three-months of residency at a hospital located far from Winston-Salem not only offered a student valuable insight into the nursing profession but also important life experience. A student from the 1960’s remarked, it was “…pleasurable to see the various sights of interest in these places… New York City and Atlanta, Georgia have a number of enjoyable sights for the young at heart.”

Until professional dress changed during the latter twentieth century, the nurse’s cap and uniform were symbols of the profession and a source of great pride to those who wore them. Each school had its own special style of cap. So, there was much excitement when students of the first sophomore class presented their design for the school’s cap in February of 1955. The design featured three small pleats on each side of the back fastened with a pearl button. The students also designed their standard white uniform and decided that their cape would be full-length with gold buttons bearing the seal of the State of North Carolina. With cap, uniform, and cape, the students were ready for the first traditional “capping ceremony”, a ritual that preceded the beginning of a student nurse’s clinical training.

In 1964, there were 11 faculty members at the Winston-Salem State School of Nursing. Six of them held a masters degree. A total of 141 students had graduated from the program during the eleven years since it was founded. Sixty-five of these graduates were practicing in North Carolina, and seven of them had continued their studies on a graduate level. A report written that year states several goals for the school: to broaden the curriculum, recruit and retain better qualified students, seek to improve the academic preparation of the faculty, and to seek accreditation by the National League of Nursing.

In 1972, The School of Nursing did achieve the accreditation sought by its administrators. Over the years, a significant percentage of students who enrolled in the nursing program did not make it to graduation. There was also a problem with faculty retention. To address these serious issues, major curriculum improvements and more rigorous policies governing admission, promotion, and retention were introduced in 1979.

The Division of Nursing and Allied Health Sciences, organized in 1984, included the nursing program. As part of the School of Health Sciences at Winston Salem State University, the nursing program is, in 2009, the fourth largest producer of nurses in North Carolina. In addition to the traditional four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree program, BSN degree programs are offered for students who already have a different bachelor’s degree, or are Registered Nurses, Licensed Practical Nurses, or certified Emergency Medical Technicians. By arrangement with North Carolina Baptist Hospital, students may receive funding to support their degree program.

Winston-Salem State University also offers a Master of Nursing degree with two tracks. One track prepares family nurse practitioners to deliver primary care services; the second prepares nurse educators to teach in nursing programs.


Murphy, E. Louise. The History of Winston-Salem State University 1892-1995, Virginia Beach: Donning Company, 1992, pp. 235-239.

Winston-Salem State University Archives. School of Nursing-Establishment of a Nursing School at Winston-Salem Teachers College 1953.

Winston-Salem State University School of Health Sciences Accessed March 13, 2009.

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