Bay College celebrates history of nursing program

EDITOR’S NOTE: In observance of Bay de Noc Community College’s 50th anniversary the Daily Press is featuring a three-part series on the early years of the college, written by retired Bay College employee Chris Holmes. The second article explores the history of the college’s nursing program.

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By Chris Holmes

For the Daily Press

ESCANABA – Fifty years ago when planning for Bay De Noc Community College began, the need for nursing classes was foremost in the minds of many college officials and local residents.

The first Nursing Program director, Elizabeth Goulais, designed the program and it was offered in the second year of the college’s operation. These preparation classes for taking the Practical Nursing licensure test began in January of 1965.

Financial assistance for the start-up of the nursing program for five years was provided by the Manpower Act (part of President Kennedy’s “New Frontier” program).

Camille Rabitoy, one of the first nursing faculty members, recalled that many early nursing students had been laid off from the mines or had served as medics in Vietnam. Male nurses were a new phenomenon in many area doctors’ offices and hospitals.

The first commencement and several thereafter, were held in the William Bonifas auditorium in the former St. Joseph’s High School. Twenty-five nursing students were “capped.”

Initially clinical training was provided solely at St. Francis Hospital but was later expanded to other locations, including the Veterans Hospital in Iron Mountain and the Newberry State Hospital.

Currently, such training is also held at the Pinecrest Center, Bishop Noa Home, Marquette General Hospital and Dickinson County Hospital.

In 1976, training was relocated to the new nursing labs in the college’s new and largest building, the Practical and Fine Arts building on Danforth Road.

January of 1980 began the first student enrollment in the long-awaited associate degree in nursing program that would prepare students for a RN nursing credential.

The final hurdle had been completed with approval of the State Board of Nursing. The first ADN class graduation included 22 students in December 1981. A follow-up study of the ADN program four years later by the State Board of Nursing lauded the program for a 100 percent passing rate and having some of the highest scores on the state licensure tests.

Unique programs offered were the mental health technician in the late 1970s, along with a training program for operation of adult foster care homes. When the state hospital in Newberry closed, nursing programs were offered there for laid-off staff.

A cooperative program with NMU was offered in Marquette for MGH employees who needed advanced training.

When a new campus was opened in Iron Mountain, regular classes were held there for area students.

After obtaining her LPN certificate in 1973 from Bay, Jody (Peters) Sanford returned to Bay to obtain her ADN degree in 1991.

She appreciated the Nursing Department’s “student-friendly” policies in scheduling and accommodating non-traditional students.

During her obstetrical training at OSF, she recalls the Dr. Bill LeMire holding up two fingers during delivery. She wondered why he was giving the “peace sign,” only to discover (pre-ultrasound) that it meant twins were on the way.

Currently Jody is a nurse in the anesthesiology department at Marquette General Hospital, after having worked in public health, ICU, and medical-surgical units. Jody added that she has real pride in being a Bay nursing graduate.

In 2004, the College’s Associate Degree in Nursing program received approval from the National League of Nursing Accreditation Commission.

This was further validation of the high caliber of the college’s nursing program and assisted students in pursuing their bachelor’s degree in nursing or obtaining employment.

Recent developments in expanding the health care program have been the addition of Certified Nursing Assistant training and the Health Career Certificate for students entering related health careers.

The latest technology is being utilized in the Nursing Simulation Center where students work with computerized mannequins to sharpen their diagnostic skills.

The total number of nursing degrees and certificates achieved at Bay is approaching 4,000 – a long way from the first 25 in 1965.