The first baccalaureate degree nursing program in West Central Wisconsin was established in September 1965 when 22 students of sophomore standing were accepted as majors in the new School of Nursing. The University at that time was known as Wisconsin State University-Eau Claire.
The possibility of such a program had been seriously discussed by University and community leaders for a number of years. A 1964 study determined that there was both sufficient community and University support and adequate clinical resources for the proposed program. The Board of Regents approved the establishment of the School of Nursing in November 1964 and in July 1965 the State Legislature appropriated funds for its operation.
Luther Hospital Closes its Nursing School
Classes in the newly established School of Nursing had not yet begun when Luther Hospital announced its decision to close its diploma nursing program and make its clinical facilities available to the University. Luther Hospital's decision stemmed from the fact that National League for Nursing accreditation standards were rising and it seemed prudent to merge with the University rather than attempt to meet the requirements for maintaining accreditation of its diploma program. This decision came sooner than had been anticipated and necessitated quick replanning as the University immediately admitted a sizable number of nursing students who were originally destined for the Luther program.
First Classes in Schofield Hall, Crest Commons
During 1965-66, the School operated out of offices and classrooms in Schofield Hall while the first floor of the new Crest Commons on the upper campus was completed for use by the School of Nursing. When Crest Commons could no longer accommodate the growing number of faculty, mobile office facilities were placed next to the building for the overflow, and planning began for a separate building to house the nursing programs.
School of Nursing Gets Its Own Building
Ground breaking for a new building to house the School took place in July 1968 and the building was completed and occupied in fall 1969. Construction of a west addition to the building was begun in the spring of 1984 and completed in 1985. Following completion of the new addition, due to changes in health care and technology, plans were made to remodel the laboratory facilities in the original part of the building.
With the addition of the nursing program at the Marshfield site in the late 1980s, two classrooms were remodeled to incorporate distance education technology. Since the inception of this program site, these classrooms have evolved from basic audio teleconferencing to state-of-the-art two-way full motion interactive video classrooms. A third interactive video classroom was completed in the fall of 2009.
Nursing Education Goes International
Nursing education took on an international flavor with the design of a course entitled "Comparative Study of Nursing and Health Care," which was taught the summers of 1972 and 1973 at the Instituto Technologica de Monterey, Mexico. In the summer of 1981 the course was taught at Harlaxton, England. It continued to be taught in England when staffing arrangements and student interest resulted in its feasibility. Beginning in the fall of 2009, additional students have participated in the study abroad opportunity for nursing students at Harlaxton. Additionally other students participate in a summer health care study abroad in Costa Rica.
BSN Completion Programs Developed for Registered Nurses
Registered nurses wishing to earn baccalaureate degrees in nursing were admitted to the nursing program beginning in 1974. To accommodate registered nurses in the central part of the state, starting in 1980, nursing courses for RNs were taught on the campus of the UW-Center in Marshfield. In 1985, a separate educational track for registered nurse students was initiated. It was designed to build on the RN's prior learning, recognize the uniqueness of the more experienced learner, and provide greater flexibility in scheduling to accommodate the needs of this group of students.
In 1996, UW-Eau Claire and four other universities entered into a Collaborative Nursing Program (CNP/BSN@Home) for registered nurses to pursue baccalaureate degrees in nursing via distance learning. Facilitated by UW-Extension, this program was a collaborative distance learning effort by UW-Eau Claire, UW-Oshkosh, UW-Green Bay, UW-Madison, and UW-Milwaukee. Students could take courses from any of the five universities but retained a "home school" status. The first courses in the program were piloted in Spring 1996, with UW-Eau Claire and UW-Madison offering the first two courses. The majority of these courses are now offered over the internet, making it possible for students to take the classes via their home computers. The program is now referred to as the BSN Completion Program.
Master of Science in Nursing Program
Enrollment in the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree began in 1981 and the first degrees were awarded in May 1983. The program initially had an adult health nursing focus, and the option of a family health nursing focus was added in 1990. The MSN program prepared specialists as nurse administrators, educators, and clinical nurse specialists. The curriculum was significantly revised in 1993-94 to update it and expand the clinical nurse specialist role preparation to enable graduates to sit for nurse practitioner certification. Beginning in 2010, the adult health specialization was transitioned to incorporate more content and experiences related to older adults, thereby enabling students to choose between an adult-gerontologic or family population focus.
In 2004, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) recommended that the level of preparation necessary for advanced nursing practice roles be moved from the master's degree to the doctorate level by 2015. In keeping with the AACN Position Statement on the Practice Doctorate in Nursing, the last class of MSN students seeking nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, or nursing administration role preparations was admitted for the summer of 2011. The first class of post-baccalaureate Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) students was admitted for the Fall of 2012. The College of Nursing and Health Sciences continues to admit students interested in nursing education role preparation to the MSN program.
Doctor of Nursing Practice
On May 8, 2009, the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents approved establishing a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree program at UW-Eau Claire. This is the first doctoral program at UW-Eau Claire. A DNP program also was approved for UW Oshkosh that same day, making UW-Eau Claire and UW-Oshkosh the first comprehensive universities in the state to grant doctoral degrees. This truly was a great stride for Nursing!
During the first two years of the program, the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 academic years, the DNP degree was offered as a post-master's option only (for part-time students during the initial year). Sixteen students were admitted to the first class of post-master's DNP students, with coursework beginning in the summer of 2010. The first class of post-master's DNP students graduated in 2012, with 14 of them graduating in May and one individual graduating later in August. The first class of post-baccalaureate DNP students was admitted for the Fall of 2012.
The UW-Eau Claire College of Nursing and Health Science’s distance education site in Marshfield, Wisconsin was originally established in cooperation with Ministry Saint Joseph’s Hospital (then known as Saint Joseph’s Hospital) in the fall of 1986. The hospital had decided to phase out its three-year diploma program, yet wished to continue to actively support quality nursing education. The hospital diploma school had a long and honorable history of educating registered nurses but chose to discontinue its program in response to the increasing social and technological complexities of health care that made the baccalaureate degree essential for professional nursing. In July 1986, the Board of Regents endorsed the UW-Eau Claire Marshfield Site program and the first class was admitted in 1987-1988. The first class of graduates (N=18) completed the program in May 1990.
In July 2017, Marshfield Clinic Health System finalized the purchase of Ministry Saint Joseph’s Hospital and renamed the hospital the Marshfield Medical Center. Marshfield Clinic signed an agreement with UW-Eau Claire to continue to support the undergraduate nursing program in Marshfield. They are providing building space in the hospital, resources, and some funding for FTE. We are quite grateful for the many years of support we received through Ministry Saint Joseph’s Hospital; however, we also appreciate the opportunities Marshfield Clinic will provide for our students in central Wisconsin.
Students at the Marshfield Site and Eau Claire campus take the same number of credits of nursing courses for the undergraduate degree. The courses are taught via interactive distance education technologies utilized by UW-Eau Claire faculty located in Marshfield and in Eau Claire. Students complete prerequisite and general education courses primarily at UW-Marshfield/Wood County, UW-Marathon County, and UW-Stevens Point, as well as online through UW-Eau Claire or UW Colleges online.
Nursing Center for Health
As the School and the nursing profession matured and the graduate program began to evolve, research and scholarly activity received greater emphasis. The School of Nursing established a Nursing Center for Health in 1987 to provide an environment for learning and the opportunity for scholarly activity and service to the community. The Center provides access to the expertise of the nursing faculty for people in the Eau Claire area. At the same time it serves as a learning setting for undergraduate and graduate students and as a practice and research setting for faculty.
In 1995, UW-Eau Claire was reorganized into the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Business, and the College of Professional Studies. The School of Nursing was one of three schools within the College of Professional Studies, along with the School of Education and the School of Human Sciences and Services. In 2004, UW-Eau Claire reorganized, once again, into the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Business, the College of Education and Human Sciences, and the College of Nursing and Health Sciences.
The College of Nursing and Health Sciences
In May 2004, the status of the School of Nursing was changed to the College of Nursing and Health Sciences. The College was comprised of four departments: Adult Health Nursing, Family Health Nursing, Nursing Systems, and Public Health Professions. In 2007, the Nursing faculty voted to restructure from three academic nursing departments to a department of the whole. Thus, the College of Nursing and Health Sciences was comprised of two departments: the Department of Nursing and the Department of Public Health Professions.
In July 2013, the Environmental Public Health Program, the only program within the Department of Public Health Professions, was slated to move to the College of Arts and Sciences.