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Fran McLaughlin Receives the Presidential Medal of Excellence from Bloomfield College

Frances McLaughlin

By Alicia Cook

On Thursday, April 19, Bloomfield College’s Nursing Recognition Program, Nursing Leaders Panel Discussion, and Reception was held. The Division’s namesake, Frances M. McLaughlin ’45 was honored for her distinguished service, dedication to the nursing profession, and commitment to the future nurses and graduates of Bloomfield College.
 
“Among the most prestigious programs we have at Bloomfield College is the nursing program, which holds the second highest NCLEX pass rate in the state of New Jersey,” said College President, Richard A. Levao. “We are so delighted and proud to carry the Frances M. McLaughlin name. We are honored to present her today with the Presidential Medal of Excellence.”
 
The Presidential Medal of Excellence is an honor bestowed upon only a few select individuals who best exemplify leadership, diversity, engagement, and the ideals of Bloomfield College. It is rarely given out at the College and President Levao noted that the last medal he conferred was over one decade ago.
 
“I am so happy that you are all here today. I am grateful for this magnificent honor and I am also grateful that I am still here!” quipped Fran as the room applauded and filled with laughter. “I am being recognized for having had the wonderful choice of a career in nursing. When I was graduating high school, you either became a secretary, teacher, or nurse. As luck would have it, my friend was becoming a nurse.”
 
This sparked Fran’s interest in nursing. A family doctor of the McLaughlin’s recommended Presbyterian Hospital School of Nursing. And so, on September 14, 1942, 76 years ago, Fran began her nursing education.
 
“It was the beginning of the lifelong, joyous career,” shared Fran.
 
The Presbyterian Division of Nursing at Bloomfield College had a long, respected history prior to joining the College in 1968. Founded in 1912 as the Presbyterian Hospital School of Nursing in Newark, the school was a training site for young women wanting to become registered nurses.
 
The school held to strict standards, such as requiring a high school diploma for admission and demanding complete loyalty to the program above and beyond personal and family life. The students were required to devote 24 hours per day, seven days a week to the program by taking classes, studying, and working in the hospital during their clinical studies.
 
Fran graduated from the Presbyterian Hospital School of Nursing in 1945 and became a teacher there in 1949. In 1962, Fran was called off the floor at the hospital by the hospital director while she was supervising students and told that “as of 15 minutes ago, you are now the school’s director. Go find out what you need to know before Miss Winkle (the previous director) leaves.” 
 
The Presbyterian Hospital School of Nursing enjoyed an excellent reputation (it was rated in the top 25 percent of nursing schools in the nation according to the National Grading Report of 1932) and Fran wanted to make sure her students had access to the highest academic standards available.
 
She was concerned that the students had to travel to Fairleigh Dickinson in Rutherford for their science courses. She also felt that the students were working very hard to be awarded a diploma and wanted to explore the concept of awarding a baccalaureate degree in nursing. To Fran, nursing is not a vocation, it is a lifelong career based on educational principles and executed by compassionate, knowledgeable practitioners.
 
During this same time in Bloomfield College history, the Board of Trustees was taking a critical look at the College’s offerings and was considering eliminating the seminary and becoming a full liberal arts college. Fran had written a position paper investigating the possibility of moving the school of nursing to a college in order to confer baccalaureate degrees to the nursing students. 
 
Her first attempt to sell her idea with the dean, Dr. Ralph Caulkins, was turned down primarily due to the cost to the College for faculty and facilities. Not to be deterred, Fran met with the president, the Rev. Dr. Theodore Rath, and proposed a division of nursing at Bloomfield College. President Rath was willing to consider the idea and they met with the Board of Trustees. 
 
The Board challenged Fran to find funding. The dean, the director of development, and Fran approached area businesses and the state government for seed money and, in 1967, with enough to get started, began the process of developing a curriculum. The Presbyterian Hospital willingly donated equipment and the entire nursing text and resource library as well as some funding to the fledgling Presbyterian Division of Nursing at Bloomfield College. In 1968, the first nursing classes were held on the Bloomfield College campus. In 1972, the first class of students from the Presbyterian Division of Nursing at Bloomfield College graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing. The Division also has the distinction of being the only school in New Jersey that has evolved from a diploma program to a baccalaureate program.
 
According to the lady who started it all, “The smartest move I ever made was knocking on the dean’s door at Bloomfield College.”
 
On September 17, 2009, the Presbyterian Division of Nursing was renamed the Frances M. McLaughlin Division of Nursing.
 
“My former students share with me stories of their families and careers and successes, and I cry, because I am overwhelmed by their accomplishments. They have become tremendous leaders, health educations, and caregivers. They have contributed so much to individuals and communities and to the profession of nursing. They have brought honor to the original school and to Bloomfield College. I thank the Lord that I was made to become a nurse.” 
 
The officers of the Alumni Association of the Frances M. McLaughlin '45 Division of Nursing received certificates for their dedication to the profession and for providing an endowed scholarship to Bloomfield College to help future nurses complete their degrees. These members included Frances M. McLaughlin '45; Ruth Sulc '45; Edwina Zengerle '52; Josephine Giorgi '54; Dr. Joan Higgins '56; Marilyn O'Neill '56; Shirley Alino '57; Marlene Potts '61; and Helene McKnight '84.
 
A nursing panel followed these recognitions, with Dr. Neddie Serra, EdD, CNE, MSN, RN, Chair of the Division, acting as moderator. Thelesha Gray '13, Nurse Epidemiologist, New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, and Judy Padula, Chief Nursing Officer, St. Joseph's Health, joined Fran on the panel.
 
“I am deeply honored and happy to receive this beautiful medal. It has been a very special day in my life. Thank you,” closed Fran.