Former School Nurse Teacher
Following graduation from Adelphi University in 1949, Betty Collins began her nursing career in the emergency room at Nassau Hospital. She then spent the next six months doing graduate work in the outpatient department at Cook County Hospital. The following year she worked in public health nursing in Nassau County.
When her father became ill and passed away, she was reminded of a promise she had made to him: to get her master’s degree. She took a job at St. Luke’s Hospital in New York City, where after just one month she was made the head nurse of a semi-private floor. In the evenings she took classes at Teachers College, Columbia University, earning her master’s degree in supervision.
She dedicated the next three decades to her work as a school nurse teacher in Massapequa Public High Schools. “It was a wonderful gift for me,” she recalls. During this time she also returned to Adelphi to pursue a second master’s degree in health education. “I’ve always liked learning new things,” she says.
During the years she taught, Ms. Collins became acquainted with a small group of people who worked in various other school systems which, like her own, had July and August off. “Together we would spend six weeks in the summer traveling,” she says. “We did this for quite a few years, and visited all different places in the world.” Her travels have taken her to Africa, South America, Australia, India, China, Mongolia, Nepal, and beyond. She fondly remembers these experiences: “I was very interested in observing and moving about in the world’s cultures,” she says. “It fascinated me.”
Looking back at her career, Ms. Collins recognizes the value of her Adelphi degrees. “Adelphi changed and impacted my life, because I was able to develop the learning tools that allowed me to take a job most anywhere,” she says.
Today Ms. Collins enjoys gardening and is interested in culture. “Right now I’m discovering that America is scientifically, technologically, and medically compatible,” she says. “It is all so exciting to see the new trends – economic, scientific, and historical – change all together as fast as you can blink an eye.”
When and why did you first want to become a nurse?
I always wanted to be able to help others. My sister was in a wheelchair with cerebral palsy. I also thought I would like all that nursing had to offer – the different activity and the travelling to other places to learn that came with fulfilling our state requirements
Do you have favorite memories of your time at Adelphi and your residencies?
I remember when we enrolled in the first nursing course that September of 1945. There were plenty of other girls elsewhere – all those hundreds of nurses in cadet nurse training. After that year we were still in World War II and nurses were really needed; the cadets could not wait to be sent overseas to do “their thing.”
Adelphi College seemed small but busy! We were the only ones all together in our classes of the sciences and nursing arts. What a class we were; always talking and laughing.
I remember our teacher bringing in a full bag of dead cats for our anatomy dissection. We each got a cat, felt sorry for the cat, and then began our science class. What a shock that was, but we all survived.
We heard the story of when medicine was found in mold and penicillin was discovered. We had a day-long bus trip to New Jersey to Lederle lab, where this discovery was made. We got to hear all about penicillin and toured the lab itself; we were so amazed. This was 59 plus years ago; since then so many medicines and antibiotics have been discovered.
We had gym class out by the “A” building that had a nice green lawn. One day somebody decided we needed fresh air, so they set up golf instruction. We learned how to hit a golf ball and swing our clubs. Somehow someone really hit a ball and it went right into the “A” building window. Everyone was swinging their clubs at once so nobody knew whose ball broke the glass of the window. After that no more golf lessons were given to us; we were back to the swimming pool in the gym building.
Our group of nursing students was divided; one half went to Nassau Hospital in Mineola and the other half went to Meadowbrook Hospital on Hempstead Turnpike. We went to the hospital to demonstrate our basic nursing arts skills, and came back to Adelphi’s campus on certain days to learn more.
Then the greatest event in all our lives happened; the World War II soldiers arrived for their GI education, and Adelphi went co-ed. Our time for class schedule demanded an extra 15 minutes preparation for dressing and putting our makeup on. This was an unwritten requirement and we were all made alert in one way or another.
I took a job with Jeannie Schreiber, supervising supper provided to the GIs at night. I delivered large plates of food to each table. When those cute GIs wanted more potatoes, I just went and got more plates of potatoes. How was I supposed to know that Jeannie counted the exact number of potato plates according to the number of tables? I found out soon enough, but boy were those GIs cute, and they sure could give a line!
Yes we nurses were in our element of joy, happiness, and extracurricular activity. We worked hard and studied hard, but while doing our hospital work, we truly came alive.
I remember one class in particular at Farmingdale TB Center. Daydreaming, I closed my eyes when all of the sudden the student behind me poked me in the back and said: “Hey girl, raise your hand.” I did, and the next thing I knew I was being assigned as first scrub nurse to a most prominent New York City doctor who was doing surgery on one of the patients there. It was okay; the student that poked me was made second scrub nurse and had to thread all of the suture needles. After it was all over, the New York doctor said to contact him if I ever wanted to go into operating room work because I did a good job.
I have fond memories of Dr. Mildred Montag. She was great at coming within the group to see if everything was okay. I really liked her.
What are some changes you have seen in nursing throughout the years?
Nursing has changed over the years. Years ago the patient’s diagnosis was kept secret and only the doctor or God knew what was wrong with you. Today, with alternate medicine and computers, people are aware of causes and effects. Diagnoses are discussed freely.
What advice would you give to those involved in the field of nursing today?
Study, get your degree, and remember that every five years (or even sooner) medical enlightenment will change. All you have to do to be comfortable and alert is to know the “newest” book that has been published. That will have all of the medical answers for you inside its cover, up to date.