Olden Days of Nursing: A Pioneer of the Past Spurs Others Forward

Olden Days of Nursing: A Pioneer of the Past Spurs Others Forward

by Guest Blogger: Cynthia Freund

I talked with Marianna the other day about the book I’m writing (more about that later). She referred me to a post on her blog from a couple of months ago, a post describing the olden days of nursing. She added that she had some very positive responses to that post—and then she put the question to me, “Would you be interested in writing something about the olden days for my Blog?” I obviously fit the age criterion.

I read the post of August 4, 2020, Olden Days of Nursing: Dialysis, about a nurse working in the days when kidney dialysis first became available, the beginning of the 1960s. I know Marianna was asking me to write something about my own early experiences in nursing, and I may do that yet. But this particular post made me think of a dear friend who died a year ago, one-month shy of her 95th birthday. She, too, started one of the early kidney dialysis units, but this time at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Durham, North Carolina. 

In this millennial year of the nurse, I want to pay tribute to Audrey Booth, both a typical and unusual nurse—a pioneer in many ways.

From the dust bowl of Nebraska, Audrey, a curly-haired blonde, climbed on a horse twice her height to ride to-and-from a one-room country schoolhouse and onto become the Associate Dean at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill. 

The interval between that Nebraska farm and UNC took her to Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio, where she earned a master’s degree in nursing. She became an expert in the care of polio patients during the height of the epidemic in the 50s, including caring for kids in iron lungs. That expertise brought her to Hawaii and Guam, and also transported her back to the mainland and the University of North Carolina (UNC). After the polio epidemic, she focused on kidney disease and, in the 60s became a leader in opening the new hemodialysis unit at the VA hospital in Durham—one of the very early dialysis units in the US.

Looking for new hurdles to jump, she joined a small select group planning the nurse practitioner program at UNC. And then, when the North Carolina Area Health Education Center Program started in the mid-70s, Audrey became the Director of Statewide Nursing Activities. (AHECs, as they are called, were designed to be centers of education and innovation, serving as magnets to attract health professionals to rural and underserved areas.) She became an Associate Dean in the School of Nursing in 1984—while continuing with all of her duties as AHEC Director. 

Throughout her career, the essence of Audrey was as a leader, a role model and a mentor. She led and taught many nurses, usually just by example. She was not well-known nationally, but she was known by hundreds of nurses—and other health professionals—in North Carolina. Many of us attribute our professional success to her leadership and guidance. 

And, as a matter of fact, it was Audrey who suggested to me that we interview the founders and influential promoters of the nurse practitioner movement in N.C. UNC started one of the very early family nurse practitioner programs. It was quite unique in its alliance with those starting a statewide AHEC Program and a Rural Health Program—a collaborative effort involving many. Audrey, and I, were involved in that pioneering effort. So, we conducted the interviews, but Audrey left the book-writing to me. 

I am about to finish that book, titled: Nurse Practitioners in North Carolina: Their Beginnings in Story and Memoir. It will be in print in the spring of 2021—and will feature many other nursing stars of the olden days of nursing.   

Audrey’s spurring me on to write this book is a perfect example of how Audrey led others—encouraging them to greater endeavors. Plain and simple: Audrey was an influencer, on a grand scale and with each individual. She was a mentor in the truest sense of that word. She was a strong voice for nursing and a strong model for women when women were still fighting for their due recognition. We indeed should celebrate all such nurses, just as the World Health Organization has done, declaring 2020 as the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife.

Dean Emerita Cynthia Freund, MSN ’73, and Associate Dean Emerita Audrey Booth, MSN ’57, were awarded the highest honor of the North Carolina Nurses Association (NCNA) when they were inducted into the NCNA Hall of Fame on Thursday October 9, 2014. Nurses chosen for the Hall of Fame are recognized for their extensive history of nursing leadership and achievements in North Carolina.

Cynthia “Cindy” Freund, RN, PhD, worked for eight years with the newly developed Family Nurse Practitioner Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the early 70s. She then went to the University of Pennsylvania to start a joint program (MBA/PhD) between the School of Nursing and The Wharton School. She returned to UNC-CH and retired after serving 10 years as Dean of the School of Nursing. To her, retirement means “working without pay.” In her retirement, she worked on her book: Nurse Practitioners in North Carolina: Their Beginnings in Story and Memoir, to be published in Spring 2021.