Expanding the Boundaries of Higher Education and Professional Practice

With the advent of the first pediatric nurse practitioner program in the late 1960s, the nursing profession began to examine its scope of practice. Schools of nursing initiated curriculum changes and innovative programs that would support an expanded nursing role for nurse practitioners in community and ambulatory settings and clinical nurse specialists in acute care settings. Nursing students sought out experiences that would position them to move into these expanded roles. Nursing students in the Student Health Coalition learned physical assessment skills—listening to heart and breath sounds, examining ears with otoscopes—as well as other non-traditional nursing tasks such as running EKGs, interpreting lab test results, and screening for glaucoma. Attending physicians taught these skills in the early years to nursing students and beginning medical students who had not learned them yet in classes. In later years, nursing faculty with these skills joined the Coalition staff.  Schools of nursing, including Vanderbilt, began teaching these skills first to graduate students and nurses in specialty post-graduate programs. Ultimately, the physical assessment skills became an accepted and expected part of the nursing role, as essential a part of nursing assessment as vital signs. Many of the nursing students in SHC went on to post-graduate and masters degree programs to become nurse practitioners.

The concept of community health became much more concrete for the nursing and medical students working in the small towns and hollows of rural Appalachia. They learned first-hand about the impact of a community’s health on the individual health of its residents. They quickly understood how poor air quality, unsafe water, inaccessible and unaffordable healthcare, and limited access to nutritious food could interact with individual health risks to increase the threat of illness. Working in the Student Health Coalition provided real life opportunities to work with communities as well as individuals to improve health outcomes.

Medical education was also changing. Medical education had long been based in medical centers affiliated with academic institutions. Medical faculty concentrated on their own research, alongside their responsibilities for patient care. Their interaction with students was often limited. But the face of medicine was changing. Beginning in the mid-1960’s the percentage of women in medical school rapidly increased, growing from 7% to 37% by 1980. Medical students began demanding opportunities to interact with patients in their own environments outside academic settings. Negotiations about the roles and responsibilities of medical students in community settings was ongoing, with student activists often encountering opposition from faculty and medical school administrators.

The nursing profession had a long history of providing nursing care in community settings–from Florence Nightingale’s trained nurses on the battlefields of Crimea to nurses based in settlement houses offering health and hygiene interventions along with care of the sick to disadvantaged, urban populations in the late 19th  and early 20th century. Over time, these services became more institutionally based in public health departments and visiting nurse services. In the SHC however, nursing students worked directly with underserved, disenfranchised communities through health fairs, home visits, and community organizing. They returned to school seeking approaches that would address underlying issues that impacted the health of communities as well as individuals.

The Student Health Coalition was right in the middle of these changes and negotiations in medical and nursing education. Students and faculty who worked for the SHC were sometimes the initiators and sometimes the beneficiaries of the seismic shift in nursing and medical education that was underway. The SHC’s health fairs provided students and their professors new opportunities to see people in the context of their own families and communities, not simply as patients presenting illnesses. Medical and nursing schools with SHC participants began to look for more and more community-based learning experiences for their students.

During the 1970s the culture at law schools and undergraduate programs underwent similar changes. As Coalition students returned from their summer of service, they began demanding more opportunities for community-based learning. Their SHC experience also put law students and undergraduates on new career paths. They were drawn to organizations and causes dedicated to addressing the same problems of poverty, exploitation, and injustice they had encountered working for the SHC. For them too, the boundaries of their education and professional practice were expanded.


Related Stories:

A sampling of vignettes that illustrate various ways in which the boundaries of higher education and professional practice were deepened or broadened. For all oral and written narratives related to this theme, click here. For a complete catalogue of clips across all three themes, visit “Stories”.

“What it took” – Nine nurses reconvene fifty years later and discover the power of common denominators

Nine nurses gathered in Nashville in May 2019 to reminisce about their beginnings as nurses. Nursing practice underwent radical changes in those days. These nine nurses stood apart from their peers and in conflict with convention. Here, they discuss what… Continued

Rosie Hammond’s introduction to the Student Health Coalition, fall of 1970

Rosie Hammond shares how she first got involved with the Coalition in the fall of 1970 and describes her role as a pediatric examiner, including both the training she received alongside second year med students beforehand and her follow-up work… Continued

On the development of Vanderbilt’s Nurse Practitioner program and other critical role expansions

Pete Moss describes one of the key developments that came about as a result, at least in part, of the Student Health Coalition’s philosophical contributions to the medical arena. He references the origination and evolution of Vanderbilt’s Nurse Practitioner (NP)… Continued

Pushback against Douglas Community Health Center

Jean Carney shares how rhetoric against the Black-run Douglas Community Health Center manifested as several false accusations and presented various legal challenges to both the clinic and associated nurse practitioners.   Full footage of Jean Carney at the old Douglas… Continued

Minnie Bommer on racially charged employment discrimination and her journey to nursing career

Minnie Bommer shares her tumultuous experience at the outset of her nursing career, detailing the extent of racially biased obstacles intended to bar her from hire at hospitals in Tipton County, Tenn. Recorded on June 1, 2018.   Full footage… Continued

Bob Hartmann on the National Health Service Corps and its role in his development as a young doctor

Bob Hartmann shares about his return to Mountain People’s Health Councils (MPHC) after graduating from Vanderbilt medical school and explains the role of the National Health Service Corps in his education and early professional development.   Full footage of Bob… Continued

A conversation with Martha Stucker

Martha Stucker shares about her time working in the mountains from 1968-1972, and explains her role as a nurse practitioner focused on meeting community needs. Continued

Caryl Carpenter talks about the origins of the Tennessee Primary Care Association

Caryl Carpenter, former administrator of the Mountain People’s Health Councils (MPHC) of East Tennessee, talks about formation of the Tennessee Primary Care Association. Recorded on May 17, 2017, as a part of a panel discussion at a reunion of the… Continued

Related People:

Profiles of several individuals, among many, whose work with the Student Health Coalition exemplifies the SHC’s impact on expanding the boundaries of higher education and professional practice. A listing of all SHC profiles can be found under “People”.

Amos Christie

Amos Christie received his M.D. from the University of California. In 1943, he arrived at Vanderbilt University as Chair of the Department of Pediatrics. During his time at Vanderbilt, he studied histoplasmosis, a fungal disease simulating tuberculosis, and received a… Continued

Betty Anderson

Betty Anderson was born in Scott County, Tenn. on March 26, 1936. In the 1970s, she became involved with Save Our Cumberland Mountains (SOCM), a social justice organization that addressed strip-mining and other community issues in Tennessee and Kentucky. She… Continued
Bill Dow in Smithville ,Tenn., 1970

Bill Dow

Bill Dow co-founded the Student Health Coalition while in medical school at Vanderbilt University, in 1969. His larger-than-life role in the SHC origin story and beyond warrants special telling, which we attempt in the essay that follows. Contributed by Margaret… Continued

Diane Lauver

Contributed by Diane Lauver, February 2018 Growing up, I was close to my paternal grandparents; they lived in a pastoral valley looking at Appalachian hills in a northern state. With their 8th grade educations and practical wisdom, they taught me… Continued

Leslie Falk

Leslie Falk was born April 19, 1915, and grew up in St. Louis, Mo. After attending University of Illinois and Washington University (St. Louis), Falk received a Rhodes Scholarship, which allowed him to attend Oxford University, 1937-1940, where he helped… Continued

Pete Moss

Contributed by Pete Moss and Jennifer Crane, March 2016. Dr. Pete Moss was raised on his maternal grandparents’ farm in Marshall County, Tenn., while his father fought in World War II. As the eldest of his siblings, he learned responsibility,… Continued

Welmoet Spreij

Contributed by Welmoet Spreij, Amsterdam, 2017. I came to Nashville as a Dutch exchange-student in the fall of 1969 and took some classes at Vanderbilt University. While attending a course in philosophy, I came to know John Davis, Dick Burr,… Continued

Related Outcomes:

A selection of initiatives, organizations, and developments that grew from seeds planted or causes championed by the SHC. A complete catalogue of materials related to various outcomes of the SHC experience can be found under “Legacy”.