Public Health Nurse
Rita Fenderson was able to pursue her interest in public health nursing after graduating with a B.A. from Adelphi University in 1968. She worked as a public health nurse in Suffolk County for nine months until another opportunity arose; the chance to start a family. In 1970, Mrs. Fenderson and her husband Ralph adopted a little girl. Their daughter was followed by two biological sons, keeping her busy for the next twenty years. Once the children had grown, and her oldest son started college, Mrs. Fenderson decided she wanted to return to nursing. She kept busy, substituting as a school nurse while also taking refresher courses in emergency care at Brentwood. In 1990, her husband needed someone to work in his private practice. With a nursing background and medical knowledge, Mrs. Fenderson was a perfect fit for the position. They worked together for 16 years, retiring only two and a half years ago, at the age of 70 and 75.
Mrs. Fenderson continues her association with hospitals as a volunteer in the emergency room of Huntington Hospital. She also enjoys playing bridge, travelling, and spending time with her husband of 45 years, her daughter, and her grandchildren who live nearby.
When and why did you first want to become a nurse?
I grew up on the grounds of the Jewish Hospital in Berlin before, during, and after World War II. The five members of my family tried to leave Berlin in 1939 before Hitler rose to power, but were unable to get an affidavit. Only my mother, sister and I survived the war. In 1953 I came to the United States by myself under the sponsorship of a paternal uncle and aunt. My mother and sister were unable to go as my sister’s husband was crippled by Polio.
I was always drawn to nursing, having a sister who was a nurse and growing up on the grounds of a hospital. I knew I wanted to do meaningful work, and for me that meant becoming a nurse. After graduating from White Plains High School in 1954, I took an entrance exam for a nursing school and was accepted at Beth Israel Hospital in Newark, New Jersey. After completing the three year program, I worked at the East Orange VA Hospital, where I met my husband; a doctor doing his residency. We got married in 1963 and moved to Long Island for my husband’s practice. I began working at Northport VA Hospital, but in the back of my mind I knew I still wanted my B.A. With my husband’s support and encouragement, I decided to pursue my goal. That’s how I found Adelphi. In 1964, I started taking classes part time while still working. After receiving a one year grant, I took classes full time and over the summer.
Do you have favorite memories of your time at Adelphi?
I loved the liberal arts courses that Adelphi University had to offer, and I feel like they made me a more well rounded professional. My ability to care for all types of patients is a benefit of the education I received at Adelphi.
What are some changes you have seen in nursing throughout the years?
There have been tremendous advances made in the field of nursing. Nurses are more qualified than ever to provide the best care possible for their patients. Unfortunately, the contact between nurse and patient has decreased greatly. The administrative duties that today’s nurses are responsible for take away from the time they are able to actually spend with the patient.
What advice would you give to today’s nursing students?
Don’t think you know it all. Get more clinical experience before assuming leadership positions.