The Orvis School of Nursing at UNR started out with just 12 students and 5 faculty. Now, 60 years later, the school has about 300 students each year. The school's dean is Dr. Patsy Ruchala, and she sat down with assistant professor Emily McClure to share some of her memories about the profession.
Emily McClure: So, Dr. Ruchala, over your timeframe of being a nurse, how have you see the transition of nursing from when you first graduated to you as dean of the Orvis School of Nursing?
Dr. Patsy Ruchala: Well, Emily. I've been a nurse for 44 years, so I've seen a lot of change in the profession. For many, many years, nurses were educated at the diploma level in hospital-based diploma programs, rather than in universities and receiving baccalaureate degrees. I think nurses have a much better understanding of the scientific basis on which clinical practice is done.
There is a much more collegial relationship with other healthcare professionals, too. Now, remember way back when, when I started in nursing, physicians and nurses really didn't see each other as collaborators. We actually, when a physician would come to the nurses' station, we would stand up and give that physician our seat. And we've come a long way with respect between the two professions.
Nurses now, I think, take care of much more acute patients. Patients are sicker when they're in the hospital when they come in, and their lengths of stays are shorter than they used to be. Patients go home, like, same-day surgery for many surgeries now.
Over my lifetime so far in the profession, there's just been a vast change for the better for how we care for patients.
EM: Every nurse usually defines a moment in their career that's very memorable to them that can either impact them or change the course of their future. I was wondering if you have a memory like that?
PR: Well, a great deal of my career was spent dealing with high-risk infants in the neonatal unit, so there were a couple of instances that, I think, had a real impact on the direction I took. One was a young woman who was married and upper-middle class, I would say, but gave birth to a premature infant. She was with us several weeks before that baby could go home. I got to know this young woman pretty well from being in the nursery with her baby when she would come to visit.
She just had so many questions. She was a woman who had insurance, who had good prenatal care, but she kept questioning, "Why did I have a premature baby? I did everything right." And there were so few nurses at that time who really sat down and listened to her. This one particular mother really drove home the importance to listen when the patients talk. There's a lot you can learn that will help you in your nursing practice if you listen, but it's also so therapeutic and cathartic for that patient.
EM: What advice would you have for young adults going into the field of nursing?
PR: I would say, be true to yourself. Always do the right thing because there are so many influences. When you start working in acute care setting in a hospital, coming right out of school, things are going so quickly. Things are moving, patients are sick, emergencies are coming in, and there's always a temptation to cut some corners because you feel like, 'I just can't do everything.'
But that's the advice I would give to somebody: Take a breath, take a step back, and say, 'This is what I need to do in this situation and this is the right thing to do.'