Carrying the Lamp
October 16, 2004
“It may seem a strange principle to enunciate as the very first requirement in a Hospital that it should do the sick no harm,” writes Florence Nightingale in 1859. In a house just off of May Avenue in Oklahoma City, another nursing pioneer, Juanita Millsap, has a collection of writings in her office dedicated to Florence Nightingale. Born in 1820, Florence was named after the Italian city of her birth. At age 24, Florence says that God called her into his service as nurse. Ten years later, she accompanied nearly 40 other nurses to help care for the soldiers of the Crimean War. The Crimean War began as a fight between Czar Nicholas II’s Russia and The Porte’s Turkey. Soon Napoleon III’s France and Victoria’s England were involved. Florence stepped into a situation of much despair, and she left a legacy of compassion as she carried her lamp from bed to bed.
Juanita Millsap, like so many in the epic story of nursing, point to Florence Nightingale as a key person who lit the way for the profession to meld into the respected place it has in society today. In Nightingale form, Juanita helped fashion the first Oklahoma baccalaureate program in nursing on the campus of Oklahoma Baptist University in 1952. “The government became involved in recruiting nurses for World War II,” Juanita says, “and that changed the scope of nursing.” Where it was learn-by-experience before the War, it was quickly adding training and education as requirements. “You get the government in on something and they’ll set up standards. As a result, the hospital school was ending.”
The hospital school taught nursing through more of an apprentice type model with the students largely responsible for the nursing service. “The directors of the Wesley Hospital School of Nursing wanted to develop a baccalaureate program whereby their hospital could be used for the major clinical experiences of nurses. A committee was formed by Ben Nickelson, representing the hospital board; Dr. James Ralph Scales, OBU; Katherine Fleming, director of nursing service at Wesley Hospital; and myself, who was the instructor at the School of Nursing at Wesley. And through that committee, I began to write the plans for the OBU School of Nursing, which were submitted to the State Board of Nursing Registration.
“I’ll never forget the Saturday morning when we went to meet President John Raley and Dr. Scales, the academic dean. It was a reward to hear their willingness, readiness, and interest in starting the program soon.” From that meeting, Juanita doubled her efforts. She had two years to write the requirements and recruit a clinical faculty for the only program of its type in the state. When classes opened in 1952, there were 10 students and three faculty members.
Today, nearly 150 students study at OBU each year in the School of Nursing, and there are eight faculty members. Juanita served as an OBU faculty member for 33 years, being appointed as dean of the School of Nursing as well. “OBU still stands out among other programs,” Juanita says. “First, the liberal arts has remained an important piece of a nursing student’s time at OBU. Second, students are introduced to how nursing is a worldwide calling, especially as it relates to ministry for those communities in great need.”
Florence Nightingale was known for always carrying a lamp, a description that could apply to Juanita Millsap as she began the vivid work that the School of Nursing continues today.
Florence Nightingale: A Household Name
The first organized attempt to mitigate the horrors of war, to prevent disease and save the lives of those engaged in military service by sanitary measures and a more careful nursing of the sick and wounded, was made by a commission appointed by the British Government during the Crimean War, to inquire into the terrible mortality from disease that attended the British army at Sebastopol, and to apply the needed remedies. It was as a part of this great work that the heroic young Englishwoman, Florence Nightingale, with her army of nurses, went to Crimea to care for the sick and wounded soldier, to minister in hospitals, and to alleviate suffering and pain, with a selfsacrifice and devotion that has made her name a household word. (The Western Sanitary Commission, A Sketch, 1864)
Juanita Millsap: A Mentor to Many
Juanita Millsap has been more than a mother to the OBU School of Nursing. She not only instills a caring perspective in the lives of nurses, but she also lives the Christian spirit now and when she was a nurse, professor, and dean. When graduates get together at reunions, it is not unusual to hear them share stories of Juanita Millsap. Although those stories invoke a lot of laughter, the memories are filled with respect for the one who would take us on tours of the hospital so that we would know the history of the agency, the one who would demonstrate how to interact with suffering patients in a very caring manner, and the one who would encourage us to engage in lifelong learning. When I was a student, she gave me copies of articles to read at home, since I was a single parent with toddlers to care for in the evenings. Later, as a faculty colleague, she would give me a big bowl of stew for our supper. As she celebrated her 90th birthday this August, she still reads the nursing literature and is excited to engage in conversations about current nursing issues. She truly is a great lady of nursing.
Lana Bolhouse, current dean of the School of Nursing