In 1968, the first-ever class of nursing students graduated from Winona State University. From that first class of 16 nursing graduates, the WSU College of Nursing has grown to an annual graduating class of over 150 pre-licensure nursing graduates; 150 associate degree to baccalaureate (RN to BS) graduates; and over 40 master’s and doctor of nursing practice graduates.

As the program celebrates 50 years of excellence in nursing, Bill McBreen, Dean of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences at WSU, reflects on the inauspicious beginnings of a nursing program that has come to be recognized for its commitment to dedicated partnerships and collaborative work throughout southeastern Minnesota, western Wisconsin, and northeastern Iowa.

“I can’t imagine that those first 16 graduates realized they were creating the foundation of what would become a tradition of excellence in nursing education that has transcended dramatic changes in healthcare delivery, nursing practice, and teaching and learning practices,” said McBreen.

The WSU nursing program first launched in 1964 in response to requests from physicians at Winona Health Services, and the program continued over the next five decades to grow in response to the evolving needs of nursing practice.

The pre-licensure program was established in Rochester to address the need for nursing graduates in Olmsted County. The RN to BS program, developed in response to requests for accessible bachelor degree education, has now been expanded to address demand throughout southeastern Minnesota. The first graduate programs in nursing were established in 1987 to fulfill the workforce demand for nurses with advanced preparation in nursing practice, administration and education. Increasing demands for clinical nurse specialists and nurse practitioners have been the driving force behind the establishment of advanced practice nursing programs at WSU. And most recently, the acute care nurse practitioner program and the psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioner program were developed in response to the healthcare needs of southeast Minnesota.

“The Department of Nursing success has resulted in local, state, regional, national and international influences in health care and nursing leadership,” said retired nursing faculty member Jo Stejskal. “Graduates are scattered throughout the world and are making a difference, one life at a time and have done so for 50 years. A remarkable impact from humble beginnings.”

In addition to celebrating 50 years of excellence in nursing at WSU, the department is also marking several other significant anniversaries this year.

“We are not only celebrating 50 years of undergraduate nursing, we are also celebrating this year by marking 40 years of our WSU RN to BS program, 30 years of graduate programs in nursing, 30 years of our Kappa Mu Honor society of nursing, 20 years of WSU’s nurse practitioner program and the 10th year of our Doctorate of Nursing Practice programs at WSU,” said Jane Foote, Chair of the Nursing Department.

According to McBreen, a foundational part of the success of the nursing program comes from the outstanding teaching, faculty members, administrative assistants and student support staff.

“As we look to the next 50 years, I can guarantee that our commitment to remaining connected to and in concert with nursing practice and our collective tradition of teaching excellence will not change,” said McBreen. “We will continue to respond to the needs of the region and devise solutions for the challenges that we will face.”

The department of Nursing at Winona State University is comprised of two undergraduate programs, Pre-Licensure and RN to BS Completion, along with six Master’s and Graduate Certificate options, and five Doctor of Nursing and Post-Master’s programs. Each year the department graduates more than 300 students, who are prepared for the nursing workforce and the challenges that 21st century health care brings. The department recently celebrated 50 years of graduating baccalaureate prepared nurses and 30 years of providing graduate prepared nurse practitioners.

To learn more about the department of Nursing at Winona State, visit the Nursing website.