'Absolutely no regrets': 40 years later, Auburn nurse recalls hospital school's last class

Posted on: 07/06/2016

AUBURN — In the early 1970s, Marcellus High School graduate Barbara Perkins had a choice. She could attend a two-year school at a community college to earn a degree in nursing — a decision that was becoming more and more popular among young aspiring nurses at the time — or she could join a three-year hospital-based program and get a traditional nursing diploma.

Both would qualify Perkins to take an exam and apply for a license as a registered nurse. The question was: Would the extra year be worth it?

Perkins decided it was, and in 1973 she moved into the Morgan Memorial Home for Nurses to begin her studies at Auburn Memorial Hospital's School of Nursing.

"I chose Auburn Memorial Hospital because I felt that it gave us a lot more clinical, hands-on time than some of the other programs I had looked at," she said.

Her first week of class, however, Perkins discovered that future area nursing students wouldn't be able to make the same choice: The board had chosen to close the school. She and the 30 fellow students who graduated in 1976 would be the last class of the Auburn Memorial Hospital School of Nursing.

Perkins and her classmates lived in the dorm on the second and third floors of the hospital. Two days a week, students would attend class on the hospital's first floor or at Cayuga Community College, which was still Auburn Community College at the time.

The other three days, Perkins said, were spent doing clinical rotations in which she and her classmates worked eight-hour shifts in the hospital, observing and treating actual patients.

"We got the benefit of a lot of patient interactions and the amount of time we spent with the patients let us do more procedures," Perkins said. "We had to do rotations in all of the departments... so we really got to be pretty well-versed in all aspects."

But they soon learned their class would be the last, as the hospital's board of trustees announced that, after nearly a century of training more than 1,300 nurses, the School of Nursing would close.

The school opened in 1887 when the hospital — then called Auburn City Hospital — established the Training School for Nurses. In its first decade, the School of Nursing became the fourth school in the state to register with the New York State Department of Education and Board of Regents, raising the school's standards.

In 1963, the National League of Nursing approved the school, meaning it had met the maximum standards for nursing education. Then, just 10 years later, the board made the decision to close, citing increasing costs of operation and plans for a new nursing education program at Auburn Community College.

"Originally we were told that it would not finish our class and we would have to transfer," Perkins said, noting that she found out the school was closing her first week of class. "But then that changed and they just decided to phase it out over three years."

Over those three years, Perkins practiced alongside professional doctors and nurses. She helped with medication administration and completed rotations in the operating room, recovery and emergency room. And a year before graduating in 1976, she was hired as a nursing assistant at the hospital.

She's been there ever since.

Perkins currently works at what's now Auburn Community Hospital as the director of quality management and the coordinator for emergency preparedness. As such, part of her job is to train staff and make sure the hospital is ready for any emergency-type situation, just like nurses at the hospital once trained her 40 years ago.

"I was sad to see (the school) go because I felt that it was a very high-quality school," she said. "There was no culture shock. We had a realistic view of what we were entering once we got done and I have absolutely no regrets choosing my career at this facility."

Staff writer Megan Blarr can be reached at (315) 282-2282 or megan.blarr@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter @CitizenBlarr.

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