April 2013

Celebrating a Half Century
A Look Back at the Class of '63


In 1963, the first thing Sarah Sheets Cook did when she finished her nursing shift at Babies and Children's Hospital (now Children’s Hospital of NewYork-Presbyterian), was look for her starched white cap which she took off at the beginning of her shift.

"It was always getting in the way, especially when I reached for babies in their cribs and wrestled with equipment," recalled Cook, who retired as Vice Dean last year, and now serves as Dorothy Rogers Professor Emerita in Clinical Nursing.

LGBT FlagCarol Stilley,'63 And aside from uniforms, many other things were different for nurses back then.

"In 1963 there was very little nursing research, few nurses were primary investigators on research projects, and there was very little evidence to direct nurses how to care for patients," said Cook, who received her DNP at CUSON in 2005. "Luckily, all of those areas have expanded enormously since then."

Nearly 20 graduates from the class of 1963 will join alumns from 1945 to 2013 at Reunion 2013 on April 26th. They will meet with students and faculty, listen to Dean Berkowitz’s state of the school address, receive an update on the new school building, participate in campus tours, and hear a panel discussion on alumni experiences working abroad.

Much has changed since 1963 in nursing. When these students matriculated, nursing was one of the few professions open to women, and it was expanding: According to the Mayo Clinic, the nurse practitioner role had its inception in the mid-1960s as a response to the nationwide shortage of physicians.

But back then, DNP degrees didn’t exist to help nurses increase their scope of practice. Nursing was perceived through the inpatient bedside lens.

Growing up in a small town in upstate New York, Carol Stilley, ’63, accepted her father’s opinion that the only careers open to women were as nurses or teachers

She didn’t want to be a teacher, so after graduating high school a year early, Stilley enrolled in the nursing program at University of Rochester. One year later, she transferred to Columbia.

Living and studying in New York City was a huge life change for Stilley, who had never left upstate New York. And it’s a decision she never regretted.

Her education and experiences at Columbia Nursing not only served her as a future nurse researcher—but her timing was fortuitous. On her first day of nursing school at a mixer, she met her future husband Bill, who was then a first year Columbia medical student.

"It was a wonderful experience being in a major metropolis," recalls Stilley, who serves as the Vice Chair for Research at the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing. Stilley will be joined at Reunion with seven of eight close friends from the class who still keep in regular contact.

In the 60s, the school’s Washington Heights neighborhood was predominantly German-Jewish. She recalls enjoying two-for-one beers at The Tropical Gardens, a local pub on Broadway frequented by nursing and medical students, now the site of the Russ Berrie Medical Pavillion.

After they married, she and Bill remained in New York City until 1966. One evening in 1965, she was working as a nurse at The Neurological Institute, when her husband, then a resident at Presbyterian Hospital (now NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital), frantically called her at work and told her to lock down the hospital. He was at the hospital when the bodies of Malcolm X and his suspected assassin were brought in and he feared the neighborhood would erupt into violence.

Kristin Vanderveer Liddle, '63, also grew up being told that the only two occupations open to women were teaching and nursing.

"I had always wanted to be a nurse because I had a desire to help people," said Liddle, now retired, who also plans to attend Reunion.

As a nursing student, she recalls, students were required to wear a uniform: Black stockings and shoes the first two years and white stockings and shoes for their third year. The student’s custom was to joyfully fling their black stockings over a campus wall after completing their second year.

After graduating, Liddle travelled to Liberia for six months to work at a new hospital created to serve workers at the Firestone Rubber Plantation.

"Being in Liberia was so very different from anything I had ever experienced," said Liddle, who will serve on the panel discussion at Reunion to discuss her varied experiences working abroad. "I will always remember the people and the land, especially the red soil."

After completing the program in Liberia, Liddle traveled throughout Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. When she returned, she taught nursing at a diploma program in Trenton, New Jersey, and then traveled again to work at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London. Returning to New York, she worked again in the Neurological Institute’s Rehabilitation Unit and earned a Master’s degree at Columbia University Teachers College.

Both Liddle and Stilley credit Columbia Nursing for giving them a foundation for a rich and varied career.
For Stilley, it meant providing a framework for her research. After Columbia Nursing, she went on to receive a PhD in Psychology from University of Pittsburgh.

Stilley teaches undergraduate and graduate nursing students as well as conducts research. Her research focuses on psychological and cognitive predictors of transplant patients’ adherence to post treatment regimens.

"It’s a very good combination for me to understand both the anatomy and physiology of the human body as well as the mental and personality aspects," says Stilley. "The combination of having a nursing degree with my graduate degree in psychology has served me very well."

And as their experiences at Columbia Nursing have served members of the class of 1963, the current graduating class and future classes can learn lessons from them.

"The nurses I worked with then were the hardest working people I ever met," says Cook. "Many of them worked two to three hours past their shift to make sure their patients were taken care of. That same work ethic is instilled in today’s students at Columbia Nursing."