Looking back on her experiences during 45 years as a nurse, Rauda Gelazis, RN, PhD, CS, CTN, recounts her desire to learn and be a part of the emerging theories of nursing. Dr. Gelazis identifies the individuals who influenced her career and hopes that she in turn was an effective mentor to her students.
Musings of a Retired Nurse Educator
Being retired, I sometimes have the time, especially during this pandemic, to think back on my years in the nursing profession. I often remember my first days at the Frances Payne Bolton (FPB) School of Nursing at CWRU. The year is 1968--the fall semester. I had just gotten married, moved from Pittsburgh to Cleveland, and started my new job at FPB as a part of the psychiatric mental health nursing faculty. This was a “dream job” because I wanted to be involved in the developing interest in nursing theories and theorists. My first interview with Dean Rozella Schlotfeldt took place in the old school of nursing building. It was a little two-story red house on Adelbert Ave. (Yes it reminded me of a “little red schoolhouse” of old). During the spring semester, we moved to a brand new nursing building, part of the medical complex. The old school of nursing became a parking lot many years ago.
Dean Schlotfeldt was very impressive because of her many new ideas. I had first met her at a nursing theory conference on the CWRU campus about a year earlier. At that time, nurse theorists were just coming into their own.
Under Dean Schlotfeldt, the idea of nurse educators having a forum for teaching, nursing practice, and research was being developed. A dual position was offered in both the School of Nursing and University Hospitals of Cleveland for both teaching nursing practice and research. Dean Schlotfeldt was one of the first “rock stars” of nursing with whom I worked. She was a wonderful mentor and stayed interested in me and my career during her tenure as Dean. She set the tone for the entire nursing department. For example, my psychiatric mental health nursing faculty head was most gracious and saw her role as mentor and facilitator of my job as essential. At this time, my family grew from just two of us to include four children. I felt very supported each time I exited and re-entered my job at each child’s birth. In those days, it was atypical to stay active in the profession after having children, let alone have complete administrative support.
At that time there was societal unrest in the country. (Sound familiar?) This past spring we commemorated the 50th anniversary of the shooting of student protestors by national guardsmen at Kent State. Of course, we were all concerned, especially our students. I recall the school being closed to show respect and to mourn the loss of life on a nearby campus.
Fast forward to my close association to another nursing “rock star,” Dr. Madeleine Leininger. She was my advisor and committee chair in my PhD nursing program at Wayne State University in Detroit. She was a nurse theorist whom I had admired from afar because her transcultural nursing theory made so much sense to me and appealed to my practical side. Dr. Leininger was a great thinker and managed to convince those of us in the program that we were also capable of understanding nursing theory and of helping to move a theory-based practice of nursing forward.
I continued to learn first-hand what mentorship meant. Dr. Leininger not only taught classes; she was doing research of her own and included students. She encouraged her students to attend the Transcultural Nursing Society national and international conferences. We were also encouraged to give presentations at these conferences. At one such conference I met Dr. Jean Watson, who had been one of Dr. Leininger’s students and had developed her own nursing theory of caring.
Upon completing the doctoral program, I continued to teach nursing at Ursuline College, where I hope I inspired students to understand nursing theory so that they could add to nursing knowledge in practice and understand the basis of nursing practice.
Now when I see the frenetic pace in which nurses often function, especially during this year of the pandemic, I am astounded. The patient is still all-important in this highly stressful time. Future pandemics are predicted, and I think nurses will continue to meet the challenges before them. Their preparation in levels of prevention of disease and maintaining high levels of wellness will help them face the future.
No doubt, there will be times of nursing shortages in the future. In my own nursing career, I was able to earn my Master’s degree in nursing through a government traineeship available because psychiatric nurses were in such short supply. Future nursing shortages can be resolved similarly through government funding.
Nursing can and will continue to grow and develop as a profession in the future because of the sound preparation we give nurses both in technical competence and in promoting caring as essential to the heart of nursing. Nurses are learning to not only care for patients but also care for themselves and each other, and to be mentors for other nurses. I see a very positive future for the nursing profession based on its history. This year I think of those of you currently practicing as our new nursing “rock stars”!