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A Living History: Diploma Nurses

Nurses are a ubiquitous presence in any healthcare institution, and for more than 125 years, Jefferson has been training an elite force of nurses and sending them out into the workforce.

Jefferson nursing has come a long way from its humble beginnings in 1891, when its first class graduated with a mere 13 students. Much of the School of Nursing’s growth can be attributed to the Diploma Nurses program.

The Diploma Nurses program was a rigorous three-year curriculum with a heavy emphasis on traditional vocational training. As Jefferson continued to grow as a clinical, research, and educational institution, the College of Nursing shifted focus to a more in-depth educational experience. In 1982, the Diploma Nurses program ended in favor of a baccalaureate program.

“It’s been a big change over the years, but one that I feel has been just essential,” recalls Mary Greenwood Schaal, BSN, diploma nurse ’63, the founding dean of Jefferson’s College of Nursing. “Not only for the students, but also for physicians, educators, researchers, and the profession overall.”

The diploma nurses were a sisterhood in the truest sense of the word. They lived together, worked together, laughed together, and cried together. The Diploma Nurses Alumni Associations—a group consisting of 1,800 former diploma nurses—is still going strong almost 40 years later, a testament to just how deep this bond truly is.

The diploma nurses honor their past by supporting education for today’s Jefferson nursing students.

“We wanted to make sure that our fellow nurses had the same opportunity, that money wasn’t a barrier, so that they could continue their education through their baccalaureate, doctorate of nursing, and nurse practitioner [degrees],” says Patricia Maro DeHart, diploma nurse ’77. “That’s all funded through our alumni association.”

Alongside scholarship aid, the Diploma Nurses Alumni Association also donated funds to be used in the addition of a brand new conference room in Alumni Hall.

“The conference room was our chance to leave a legacy in the Alumni Center,” says Rae Matz Fierro, diploma nurse ’77, BSN, president of the Diploma Nurses Alumni Association. “It gave us something tangible and was an opportunity for us to collaborate with the other alumni.”