Through the years the education of nurses has changed dramatically in response to societal needs. Prior to 1907 Oklahoma statehood, nurse training was offered in hospital-based programs that prepared individuals for employment at that hospital. There was no mechanism for registration or licensure of graduates of these programs, nor were there methods to regulate the education and practice of nurses. In 1908 the Oklahoma State Association of Graduate Nurses assumed a leadership role to ensure that nursing practice was regulated. This organization's legislative committee developed the original Oklahoma Nursing Practice Act, signed by Gov. Charles N. Haskell on March 3, 1909. The measure originally called for voluntary registration, but in 1913 it was amended to require compulsory registration. It also required prospective nurses to have at least one year of high school education. The first examination for nurses was held in Oklahoma City on October 21 22, 1912. Seven applicants took the test.
By 1913 a total of 278 nurses were registered, most of them through a waiver process, although forty-nine were licensed by examination. Fifteen hospital-based nurse training programs, also known as diploma programs, were registered in the state, with an average class size of three students. These programs continued to function primarily as apprenticeships, with students working long hours in the hospital wards and receiving only a limited amount of classroom teaching, provided primarily by physicians. Throughout the 1920s diploma programs continued to flourish, with as many as thirty-six hospital-based programs offered. The National League for Nursing Education had published a nursing education curriculum guide used by many of these programs to improve and standardize educational offerings. However, the Great Depression significantly impacted the ability of Oklahoma hospitals to support nursing education, and diploma programs began to decline.
By the 1950s there was a nationwide initiative to provide nursing education programs in academic settings. The first to be offered in Oklahoma were at the baccalaureate level, with two university-based programs opening within a year of each other. The University of Oklahoma began offering the courses in 1951, and Oklahoma Baptist University began a nursing regimen in 1952. The first associate degree program was opened in 1965. Diploma education continued to play a significant role in Oklahoma until 1983, when the last one in the state closed. Registered nursing education continues to be offered in community colleges and universities. Graduate education in nursing first became available in 1972 at the University of Oklahoma.
Like registered nursing education, practical nursing education began as an apprenticeship. Practical nurses were not licensed in the state until 1953, and in that year several hospital-based practical nursing programs were approved. Eventually, practical nursing education moved to technology centers and private vocational schools. At the turn of the twenty-first century Oklahoma had 30,948 licensed registered nurses and 16,536 licensed practical nurses.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Assessment of Nursing in Oklahoma, 1970: Source Book (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Board of Nurse Registration and Nursing Education, 1971). Oklahoma Board of Nursing, Approved Schools of Nursing in the State of Oklahoma: 1909-1983 (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Board of Nursing, 1983). Oklahoma Board of Nursing, A Short History of Oklahoma Law and Board Proceedings (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Board of Nursing, 1913). Martha L. Stockwell and Jesscelia Nunley, "Centennial Year of Nursing Education: An Oklahoma Perspective," The Journal of the Oklahoma State Medical Association 67 (January 1974).
© Oklahoma Historical Society