North Carolina Nurses: A Century of Caring 

North Carolina Nurses: A Century of Caring

UNC-TV Documentary Celebrates 100 Years of Nursing

When the Civil War began, North Carolina had neither hospitals nor trained nurses. Yet by 1865, Tar Heel women-many with copies of Florence Nightingale's "Notes on Nursing" as their only instruction manual-had established fifteen military hospitals in the state, as well as the new career of professional nursing. In 1903, through the work of the newly formed North Carolina Nurses Association (NCNA), the state became the first in the nation to pass a nurse registration law and create a board of nursing. In the 100 years since, Tar Heel nursing leaders have remained at the forefront in the advancement of what was once considered a form of indentured servitude into a true profession, one which recent surveys rank as the most trusted in America.

North Carolina Nurses: A Century of Caring explores the vital roles of the NCNA and the N.C. Board of Nursing in standardizing nursing education, expanding nursing practice, and dealing with critical nursing shortages like that facing the state and nation today. Produced by Emmy Award-winning filmmaker John Wilson and nurse practitioner Ashley Lefler Wilson, the documentary is narrated by National Public Radio's Liane Hansen. Chris Frank of the Red Clay Ramblers composed the original music score.

"Before 1903, in North Carolina and everywhere in the country, anybody could call herself a nurse and in fact practice nursing," says Phoebe Pollitt, a Watauga County school nurse and historian who appears in the film. The situation was so dire in the late 19th century that the first president of the American Nurses Association, Isabel Hampton Robb, lamented that "In the absence of educational and professional standards, I am sadly forced to admit that the term 'trained nurse' means anything, everything and next to nothing."

Using a combination of archival film and photographs, contemporary footage, and on-camera interviews, the documentary tells the stories of the trailblazing caregivers who created the state's first civilian hospital (St. Peter's in Charlotte in 1876) and nursing school (Rex Hospital in Raleigh in 1894).

Mary Lewis Wyche, head nurse at Rex who started its nursing school, also founded the NCNA, which drafted the first Nurse Practice Act. "She had no vote, and all of the people that she was organizing to assist her had no vote, and they had not a lot of money," said Gene Tranbarger, associate professor of nursing at East Carolina University and a former NCNA president and Board of Nursing chairman. "So how do you convince a politician to do something when votes and money aren't involved? It has to be by the conviction of the cause."

Polly Johnson, executive director of the N.C. Board of Nursing, adds "In a culture where women were really to be in the background, to get the recognition that the educated nurses were getting with that Practice Act was incredible in those days."

The documentary also includes the story of Lydia Holman, a turn-of-the-century nurse who traveled mountain trails on horseback to provide the only health care available to the citizens of remote Mitchell County. Captain Mary Mills of the U.S. Public Health Service, a 1933 graduate of the Durham's Lincoln Hospital School of Nursing, offers a firsthand account of training uneducated, or "granny," midwives in rural eastern North Carolina. "The midwife was nothing but a kind neighbor who did what she could to help another neighbor," Mills recalls on-camera. "There was nobody else to help the families. We did not have a hospital in Northampton County. We had some private physicians, but they were far apart."

The documentary presents other impressive accomplishments involving North Carolina nursing leaders. North Carolina Memorial Hospital, currently celebrating its 50th anniversary, opened the nation's first intensive care unit in 1953, requiring advanced preparation for nurses. UNC-CH's nurse practitioner program, which began in the 1960s, and the statewide network of Area Health Education Centers (AHECs), launched in 1972, were among the first in the nation. In 1981, North Carolina became the only state to allow nurses to elect their board of nursing rather than having its members appointed by the governor. In 1991, responding to a severe nursing shortage, the NCNA spearheaded the creation of the North Carolina Center for Nursing, the first state-funded agency in the nation dedicated to assuring adequate nursing resources for its citizens.

Others appearing in North Carolina Nurses: A Century of Caring include NCNA Executive Director Sindy Barker, N.C. Licensed Practical Nurse Association President Patricia Beverage, former N.C. Board of Nursing Chair and UNC-CH School of Nursing Associate Dean Audrey Booth, North Carolina Center for Nursing Executive Director Brenda Cleary, William Cody of the Family and Community Nursing Department of the UNC-Charlotte School of Nursing, Rhonda Ferrell of the Health Education Department at James Sprunt Community College in Kenansville, former UNC President William C. Friday, and Hettie Lou Garland of Mountain AHEC in Asheville.

John Wilson has written, directed and produced two previous documentaries that premiered on UNC-TV. Charles Kuralt narrated Wilson's 1994 film, Dr. Frank: The Life and Times of Frank Porter Graham, which won a regional Emmy and numerous other awards, and was selected by The Museum of Modern Art for its "New Documentaries" series. Wilson also made the 1999 documentary, North Carolina's Research Triangle Park: An Investment in the Future, a one-hour history of the most successful research park in the world.

An educational, interactive Web site will accompany the program, scheduled to launch October 18, 2002. The Web site will expound on some of the historical profiles introduced in the program and will include articles about different issues in nursing, including nurses in the military, African American nurses, and male nurses. In addition, a timeline and information about the 100 years of nursing celebratory event in Raleigh provide a milestone tribute to the profession.

UNC-TV is North Carolina's only statewide broadcasting system, made possible through a unique partnership of public investment and private support. UNC-TV's commitment to producing and broadcasting local and national programs about North Carolina history makes it one of the state's most important sources of information.