A version of this story first appeared in the 2023 issue of University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Magazine.
Since its humble beginnings operating out of two rooms inside Race Hall, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga School of Nursing program has continually evolved.
As the program celebrates its golden anniversary in 2023, the evolution continues.
“It is hard to believe that we have been educating nursing students for 50 years,” said Dr. Chris Smith, director of the UTC School of Nursing and the University’s chief health affairs officer. “While the curriculum and the faculty have certainly changed, the school’s commitment to our students has never wavered.”
The UTC program was established in 1973, and perhaps no one in the region has had a more incredible front-row view of the development of the program—and the nursing profession’s growth—than its initial faculty member, Martha Butterfield.
Butterfield, a retired Mary B. Jackson associate professor who taught at UTC from 1974 to 1998, recalled a time when the nursing position “was to do what you’re told; you know, kowtow to the physicians.” It was expected that nurses would stand up when a doctor entered the nursing station, “and the physician was ‘be all’ and ‘do all’ and nurses were there to push bedpans.”
There were just two baccalaureate degrees offered in Tennessee when she and her late husband Bill—a longtime UTC professor of education—arrived in Chattanooga in 1967. Funeral homes actually deployed their vehicles to accident scenes at the time because the city didn’t have ambulance service.
Butterfield, who received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing from Ohio State University, struggled to find work. “They didn’t know what to do with somebody with a master’s degree,” she said.
After landing at Baroness Erlanger Hospital School of Nursing, she and two other local nurses began a crusade to bring a nursing program to UTC to serve the state’s Southeast region.
They found that there was interest in a program, but prospective students “weren’t interested in driving more than 30 miles to get that degree,” Butterfield recalled, “so the three of us got together and started to work on getting a bachelor’s program.”
They collaborated with professional nursing organizations, University officials, legislators and colleagues in Knoxville. “We kept pushing,” she said, “and we had some local senators and representatives who supported us. It took us several years.
“Knoxville finally said, ‘If you support us, we’ll support you,’ and that’s how we came into being.”
Butterfield chuckled as she recalled the early days of the Department of Nursing—as it was first called.
“We were the stepchildren of the University,” she said. “We started out with a couple of rooms in Race Hall, then we moved to Brock Hall—and we were kicked out because the people in power didn’t want nursing in that building. Then we went to one of the houses up on the hill next to the dorms.”
The program later moved to Guerry Center before settling into its current Metro Building home.
Butterfield proudly recalled being a part of the UTC faculty through the start of the master’s program, the birth of the nurse anesthesia program and the initial doctoral program discussions. Beyond new programs, she witnessed the increasing stature of nurses within the medical profession.
“I’ve seen a great change in the whole health care scene,” she said. “Nurses have ideas and good thoughts, are bright and can ask good questions. We can have input into the care that patients receive. That was not around before.”
As for the evolution of the UTC program, “We are at an absolutely spectacular point and we have come so far,” Butterfield said. “Words can’t express how proud I am of the work that Chris (Smith) and the faculty have done.”
In its golden anniversary year, the nursing school finds itself at an exciting time. Over the past two years, the nurse anesthesia concentration enrolled its first cohort; the last master’s classes were enrolled before a concentration transition to a new doctor of nursing practice; and an accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree program has been launched—with its first class starting in fall 2023.
The accelerated BSN program stems from a critical nursing shortage impacting health care nationwide. It is intended for those with bachelor’s degrees in any field seeking to transition to nursing careers.
The program, Smith said, is designed for individuals with the right skills to be successful.
“They have to be highly motivated; have an intense desire to learn and become competent as a BSN-prepared nurse; understand and appreciate time management; and be able to handle rigor and stress,” she said.
“The good news is you don’t have to have a degree in the medical field to enter this program. For example, if a person with a degree in business wanted to return to college and be a nurse, that would be great. The same for someone with a degree in a field like psychology; they just have to have a proven track record in having earned a bachelor’s degree and meeting the prerequisites.”
Students pursuing an ABSN degree will face a rigorous three-semester, 59-credit-hour curriculum enabling them to graduate within one calendar year. The program will accept and enroll a new cohort of students each semester—fall, spring and summer—creating a continual admission and graduation cycle.
Said Dr. Deborah Deal, chief nurse executive at Parkridge Health System and a two-time UTC alum, “As it’s a well-known fact that all of health care faces a critical shortage of nurses and nurse leaders, we’re excited UTC is helping meet this important demand by offering accelerated opportunities for nursing students to meet their educational goals.”
After the 12-month program, ABSN graduates can take the National Council Licensure Examination. Upon licensure, the graduate will be qualified to work as a registered nurse.
“While we alone will not solve the shortage of nurses,” Smith said, “we can offer this program that will educate more students in a shorter period of time but retain the rigor.”
Click here for more details about visiting the UTC School of Nursing.