Posted on Apr 4, 2011

Gordon Keller Alumnae Celebrate 100 Years – Help Prepare Students for Nursing’s Next Century

Gordon Keller Alumnae Celebrate 100 Years – Help Prepare Students for Nursing’s Next Century

Gordon Keller Nursing - USF Nursing Life

When the Gordon Keller School of Nursing closed its doors in 1972, Hillsborough Community College acquired the facility and the nursing program, but the College of Nursing at University of South Florida adopted the school’s alumnae. On the eve of its 100-year anniversary, passing on the school’s legacy is particularly important to some of these women who still meet each May to celebrate their memories.

Gordon Keller c/o 1953 - USF Nursing Life

In 1910, The Gordon Keller Memorial Hospital and Gordon Keller School of Nursing opened to provide improved medical services to the community. When the 32-bed hospital closed in 1927, the nursing school moved to Davis Islands with the new Tampa Municipal Hospital. The “notorious” class of 1953 are shown here in front of that 250-bed facility. Both the school and hospital named in honor of the late Tampa businessman, philanthropist and city treasurer, Gordon Keller, are now gone. However, the school’s impact lives on through the contributions of its graduates.

Jean Thomas, a 1953 graduate, is part of this group. Interacting with today’s nursing students at USF, she finds herself reflecting on her experience as a young nurse at theGordon Keller School.

“My parents chose Gordon Keller because it had the highest scores on state boards of any school in Florida,” she explained, “but it was also a very controlled atmosphere. My dad was a lawyer and he wouldn’t let me go just anywhere.”

Gordon Keller was an all-girls nursing school and the women lived on campus for the duration of the three-year program.

“We were not allowed to be married or get married while enrolled, and male visitors were not allowed in our rooms,” she remembered.

The curriculum was very intense. The first six months were a probationary period. Nurses on probation mainly attended classes with short sessions on the hospital floors. After the first six months they were put to work as if they were already RNs.

“We were in class from eight in the morning to four in the afternoon and could be assigned to work anytime we were not in class,” Jean says.

Gordon Keller Nursing students - USF Nursing Life

The student nurses were also required to perform a certain amount of night duty from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. When they were not working, they had three hours of free time in the evening to go anywhere followed by two hours of study and quiet time. For girls who were not assigned the night shift, lights were out at 10 p.m.

“We had a house mother and we had to sign in and out whenever we left or returned. Can you imagine that today?” she exclaimed. But the restrictive schedule had a huge payoff. In addition to classroom learning, Gordon Keller’s nurses in training administered total care of patients, performing rotations on medical and surgical floors from obstetrics to the psychiatric ward.

“It was a real hands-on experience,” Jean said. “We spent a month in the operating room mainly as scrub nurses.”

Gordon Keller Nursing Jean Thomas Paycheck - USF Nursing Life

The Gordon Keller School of Nursing produced very experienced nurses ready to meet the region’s medical challenges. But after the school closed and the nature of nursing programs began to change, the school’s alumnae, now veteran leaders in the medical community, became very concerned that recent graduates were knowledgeable but lacked practical skills.

“There were complaints that we were hiring bright young nurses and finding they didn’t have much clinical experience,” Jean said. So the group was excited about the opportunity to align themselves with USF’s nursing program.

“Dean Burns was building an outstanding program that incorporated academics with practical training. We wanted to be a part of that.” Jean said.

The alumnae banded together and established the Gordon Keller Alumni Association Scholarship to support strong students with demonstrated financial need. They also founded the Gordon Keller School of Nursing Professorship to support research that would improve the effects of nursing in acute care.

Jean worked as the assistant supervisor of surgery at Tampa General Hospital and was on call when the first aorta implant procedure was done there. She remembers using a huge tub filled with bags of ice to cool the patient off slowly. The medical staff had to tie off the blood vessels by hand.

“We certainly didn’t have fancy equipment, but we were very well prepared,” Jean said.

She believes that advances in medicine and technology can ease a nurse’s job, but emphasizes that state of-the-art equipment is only useful if you know how to use it. This means it’s essential for nurses today to be well educated and well trained. The culture and curriculum may be about a century apart but the goal of nursing has not changed. That’s why Jean and her fellow alumnae are honoring their Gordon Keller birthright by helping students of their adopted alma mater receive excellent training to deliver excellent care.

Story by Deena Kemp
Photos from the Private Collection of Jean Thomas
Published in the Summer 2010 Nursing Life Magazine