, Heritage writer
Deloras Jones graduated from the Kaiser Foundation School of Nursing more than 50 years ago, but she vividly remembers the school’s philosophy of scientific training. In a medical profession long beset by gender inequalities, the program was progressive in teaching the female students “the science of medicine … as physicians were,” said Jones.
Among Kaiser Permanente’s many contributions to health care, it’s important to recognize a legacy of support and respect for nurses. One prime example: Deloras Jones’ alma mater. At the end of World War II, when the health plan opened to the public, qualified nurses were in short supply.
To address the shortage, the Kaiser Foundation established the Permanente School of Nursing (later the Kaiser Foundation School of Nursing) in 1947 to train more nurses. The accredited school graduated its first class in 1950 and offered tuition-free education and training for its first 7 years. California regulations changed in the 1960s, requiring the school to transition from a diploma program to a degree-granting 4-year college. Efforts to connect with one of the local colleges while maintaining an independent identity were unsuccessful, and the last class graduated in 1976.
During its existence, the school graduated 1,065 nurses and boasted numerous accomplishments. It trained a diverse pool of highly skilled nurses (it was the first in California to consistently recruit minority students), and student scores in State Board Examinations consistently ranked in the top 3 of all California programs, including university schools. Watch their stories in this short video.
In January, that impressive legacy was documented in an academic article in Nursing Administration Quarterly, “Kaiser’s School of Nursing: A 70-Year Legacy of Disruptive Innovation.”
The article is the fruit of a legacy project that was launched in 2016 to research, capture and record the history and voice of Kaiser Foundation School of Nursing alumni. What emerged from these early nursing pioneers were inspirational stories about their pride of being part of a new way to provide health care that prioritized prevention, health promotion, and wellness over conventional “sick care” models.
These alumni became Kaiser Permanente’s earliest nurse leaders, educators, and care advocates, advancing new models for integrated patient care. Many graduates pursued advanced degrees and were instrumental in defining expanded nursing roles, including the introduction of nurse practitioners in California.
Kaiser Permanente nurses contributed to make their mark in advancing the field through research, such as the 1999 study “Exploring Indicators of Telephone Nursing Quality” in the Journal of Nursing Care Quality. Telephone nursing was an early effort in what we now call “telemedicine,” and the study resulted in important understandings about the effectiveness of technology-mediated care.
The school was an experiment that had run its course, but it had also enriched the Kaiser Permanente philosophy with a respect and value for the nursing profession as an essential component of group-practice medicine. To the world, it demonstrated the enduring importance of Kaiser Permanente’s leadership in disruptive innovation — in particular, the role of the nurse executive — in reimagining care for future generations. It’s a mission that continues to this day.
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