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Alumni Success

Nursing Department grows as profession becoming a key to solving healthcare staffing shortage nationwide

From just 18 students in 1968 to nearly 600 today, Nursing has undergone a transformation

Nancy Whitehill and Kathy Masters, members of the first class of Miami Nursing students who came back to help celebrate the 55th anniversary of the department.
Nancy Whitehill and Kathy Masters, members of the first class of Miami Nursing students who came back to help celebrate the 55th anniversary of the department.
Alumni Success

Nursing Department grows as profession becoming a key to solving healthcare staffing shortage nationwide

Nancy Whitehill and Kathy Masters, members of the first class of Miami Nursing students who came back to help celebrate the 55th anniversary of the department.

When Nancy Whitehill graduated from Miami University’s Nursing Department in 1970, she was part of a wave of change in nursing that has evolved the profession from basic bedside care to the highest levels of healthcare leadership and innovation. As part of Miami’s first graduating class of associate degree nurses, Whitehill and her 17 classmates were at the leading edge of this new age.

Miami University launched its Nursing Department in 1968 on the Hamilton campus as the healthcare profession began to move away from training nurses in hospitals, as had been the practice for decades, and stressed a university education due to the increasing complexity of care. 

The Nursing Department celebrated 55 years of excellence in nursing education at a special evening in May when the department also celebrated its first graduates in the new Master of Science in Nursing program, launched in 2022.

“When I became a nurse, I never wanted to be anything else,” said Whitehill, who is now retired and lives in San Diego after a 30-plus year career. She served as president of her class during her time at Miami. “Our skills and knowledge have evolved as we seek to become the profession the American Nurses Association (ANA) envisioned in 1964,” she added, in reference to an ANA report at the time that recommended a baccalaureate education for all nurses.

Today, Miami’s Nursing Department encompasses roughly 600 students on both the Hamilton and Oxford campuses. Bachelor’s degrees are now the starting point at Miami, with associate degrees in nursing no longer offered. Advanced degrees are becoming more commonplace. Miami’s first cohort of Master of Science in Nursing graduates received their degrees May 18 at spring commencement.

The nursing profession has undergone a rapid transformation over the past 50 years as healthcare has become increasingly high-tech and research offers fast-moving innovations in treatment and care. In 1970, nurses were largely seen as hospital assistants who worked under the close direction of doctors. Today, nurses are highly regarded healthcare professionals in their own right and can pursue a range of professional specialties across the healthcare spectrum.

Miami's first class of associate degree nurses in 1968.
First graduating class of associate degree nurses in 1970.

High-tech facilities created to keep pace with modern treatment environments

Miami has responded to these changes in the profession by expanding its Nursing Department and introducing new educational facilities that help meet the increasing demand for highly-trained nurses.

In 2022, Miami University Regionals opened its new Nursing Innovation Hub on the Hamilton campus. The hub features four fully-wired, high-technology classrooms, four high-fidelity simulation labs, a multi-bed skilled nursing area, and numerous student lounges, conference spaces, and staff offices.

After a Bachelor of Science in Nursing program was launched at the Oxford campus in 2018, the university developed a state-of-the-art health sciences facility to support the new program as well as other health sciences programs, such as physician associate studies, and speech pathology and audiology.

In 2023, the university opened the Clinical Health Sciences and Wellness facility, replacing the former Student and Employee Health Center. The 165,000-square-foot, $96 million facility includes high-tech classroom and lab space, plus medical exam and counseling rooms for student health needs.

Nursing Department chair Stephanie Nicely said the growth in the department is a reflection of the importance of nursing today, and the university’s response to meeting the rising demand for skilled direct care providers.

“We have a phenomenal undergraduate nursing program,” Nicely said. “We knew we could offer this to more students and expand our program’s reach. Our enrollment is increasing. Now we are seeing students from all over the country at the Oxford campus. Between our two campuses — at Hamilton and Oxford — we are meeting the need for nurses at the local and national levels.

“There is a significant need for nurses across the country,” she continued. “The COVID pandemic exemplified the need for skilled nurses who could care for the complex patients seen in our hospital systems. We understood the need for more nurses even before the global pandemic. We are now in a position to better address that need."

Graduates recruited for their education and skills

Miami’s reputation for excellence in nursing education means Miami’s Nursing graduates are sought-after job candidates in local and national hospitals and healthcare businesses.

“We push our students to be innovative problem solvers,” Nicely said. “We want them to think creatively and become advocates for their patients. Our faculty model this by being committed to our students’ success. They then show that same dedication to their patients.”

Miami nursing graduates work in some of the leading healthcare organizations in the region, with approximately 10 percent of graduates going to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, the nation’s No. 1 children’s hospital. Healthcare leaders say they value the quality of education at Miami and trust Miami’s graduates to be job-ready after graduation.

Nathanael Chaney, director of nursing at McCullough-Hyde Memorial Hospital (TriHealth), said he has strong confidence in Miami Nursing students at his hospital.

“Miami has expanded not only its capacity for enrollment but also its simulation program with the addition of the new Health Sciences building and remodeling of the Hamilton campus,” Chaney said. “The opportunity to simulate specialty areas such as Med-Surg, ICU, OR, OB, and Psychiatric units stands out for Miami as compared to other education programs. Additionally, partnering with health systems and hospitals to create dedicated education units is an example of Miami leading the way in growing the nursing pipeline and addressing the nursing shortage.”

Brooke Flinders, former Nursing Department chair and current associate provost for faculty affairs at Miami, said the Nursing Department has developed strong partnerships with local healthcare organizations to bring expert faculty to teach its nursing students.

“Without a medical school on campus to work with for our clinical training, we’ve had to reach out to area healthcare networks to partner with them for our students’ clinical experience,” she said. “This has meant our students get experience with multiple health systems, leading to a well-rounded graduate.”

Students feel a strong sense of belonging at Miami

While much has changed in more than 55 years of nursing education at Miami, one thing has remained the same: Students love the program. Miami RN graduates have returned to Miami to earn their BSN, and now their MSN degrees. And many of Miami’s nursing faculty are former Miami students.

Catherine Johnson, who graduated from Miami Regionals’ BSN program in 2015, said she postponed her master’s in Nursing until Miami opened its MSN program for enrollment.

“Miami’s program is very competitive and has a great reputation,” she said. “I wanted to keep my pedigree. Miami’s Nursing Department doesn’t just prepare you for the medical side of nursing, they also prepare you for the spiritual and emotional side of nursing care. It’s a holistic model curriculum. Other programs don’t emphasize that model as much as Miami does.”

Looking back from the perspective of her long career as a nurse, Whitehill said she understands now more than ever how vital nurses are to the healthcare industry.

“Patients don’t come to the hospital to see their doctor every day,” Whitehill said. “They come because the level of care required to help their bodies heal requires the skill, knowledge, and care delivered by the professional registered nurse. We make all levels of care better and have a positive impact in all that we do.”

Mosaic tile example with photos in squares and a red Miami M overlay.

"I Am Miami Nursing" Wall

In celebrating 55 years of Nursing at Miami the department is working with Miami alum Brent Billingsley (‘13) to create the "I Am Miami Nursing" Wall. The wall will be a mosaic featuring 100 moments in Miami Nursing made up of photos submitted by alumni, capturing their history through photos that share their laughter, smiles, tears, and gratitude.

Donors making a gift of $155 or more to one of the Nursing gift funds will be sent a link to upload their photo.