Academics / January 2017

Then and Now: Nursing Education at Mount Mercy

Mount Mercy Nursing — Ready for Tomorrow

Mount Mercy has always been at the cutting-edge of nursing education, and nothing could be more necessary today as we enter a time of immense change in health care.

Whether that is founding one of the state’s first baccalaureate nursing degrees in 1969, providing a state-of-the-art simulation laboratory to students today, or offering advanced degrees to prepare tomorrow’s leaders in our region.

[photo] Historical nursing classroom in Warde Hall.

“The nursing education program at Mount Mercy prepares students to be thoughtful, flexible professionals who understand learning is a lifelong process.” — Dr. Mary Tarbox

And through it all, Mount Mercy remains driven by the Sisters of Mercy’s mission and deep-rooted commitment to educational excellence and compassionate service.

[photo] Dr. Mary Tarbox

Dr. Mary Tarbox

“The nursing education program at Mount Mercy prepares students to be thoughtful, flexible professionals who understand learning is a lifelong process,” said Dr. Mary Tarbox, Chair of the Department of Nursing. “Students are active in the arts, in leadership, in sports and in community services. These activities offer excellent opportunities to enhance their current education and to set the direction for lifelong engagement, enhancing their personal and professional lives.”

The effects and outcomes of this uniquely Mount Mercy style of educating not just for today, but for the future, has been recognized nationally.

This summer, when naming Mount Mercy one of the top 150 colleges in the nation, Money magazine highlighted that our graduation rates of students from financially or culturally disadvantage backgrounds is nearly 40 percent higher than the national average.

Similarly, U.S. News & World Report recognized Mount Mercy as the top private college in Iowa. This recognition can be attributed to Mount Mercy’s commitment to educational excellence and the overwhelming success of our graduates, with 97 percent in a career or graduate school within nine months of graduation.

“A Mercy foundation—when you think of it as being in nursing, social work and education—is a natural fit at Mount Mercy,” Tarbox said. “It gives us a foundation we can build on. When students come here, whether they’re Catholic or not, they get a Mercy education. That means there are certain obligations that come with the privilege, and certain values we hold strongly and can talk about here, as a Mercy institution.”

[photo] Sister James Marie Donahue

Sister James Marie Donahue

Sister James Marie Donahue, first chair of the Mount Mercy nursing program, agrees.

“I think there is a difference between what students learn at Mount Mercy, compared to other institutions,” she said. “The concept of Mercy care, carries over. It’s about taking that extra step. Not just doing what needs to be done, but going beyond that. The concept of mercy is not just about justice, but about going beyond justice in caring for patients and families, and for people in the community.”


Then and Now: Nursing Education at Mount Mercy


Contributed by Kristy Raine, Mount Mercy University’s Reference Librarian and Archivist

In Cedar Rapids, the history of nursing through the Mercy tradition dates back to 1904, when seven women formed the first class of Mercy Hospital’s nursing training school. In 1933, it became affiliated with Mount Mercy and students came to campus for biology, chemistry, and sociology classes.

“The concept of Mercy care, carries over. It’s about taking that extra step. Not just doing what needs to be done, but going beyond that.” — Sr. James Marie Donahue

In 1951, the Mercy Hospital program reorganized at Mount Mercy Junior College and received full accreditation. This program was led by Sister Regina Differding. Students in the School of Nursing at Mercy Hospital received credit for their Mount Mercy coursework, diplomas from the hospital school, and an Associates degree from Mount Mercy. Because Mount Mercy was to become a four-year college, the nursing major was discontinued, and the nursing program returned to Mercy Hospital in 1959.

By 1968, the national climate for nursing education significantly changed, and a campus feasibility study recommended nursing as a new curriculum offering. After the Iowa Board of Nursing approved the plan in July 1968, the first, four-year cohort began their classes in September 1969. Students experienced class and resident life on campus, with Mercy Hospital as their major clinical facility.

With the launch of baccalaureate studies at Mount Mercy, in 1971, the Mercy Hospital School of Nursing closed, having enrolled 900 nurses during its history. In the early 1970s, Mount Mercy’s President, Sister Mary Agnes Hennessey, was determined to meet the needs of the time by building a dedicated nursing building with lecture halls, classrooms, staff offices, conference rooms and the Clinical Simulation Laboratory (CSL). The Donnelly Center for Nursing Education opened for classes in December 1975 and was formally dedicated on April 25, 1976, in honor of Mr. and Mrs. M.J. Donnelly.

Dr. Mary Tarbox assumed the responsibilities as director for the school of nursing in 1987, after Sister James Marie stepped down to lead the Sisters of Mercy in Cedar Rapids as president.

Always looking to the future, Mount Mercy’s Department of Nursing added an RN to BSN program in the 1980s. Courses are offered in evening-weekend or online formats to registered nurses seeking their Bachelor of Science degree.

In January 2011, Mount Mercy introduced the Master of Science in Nursing, with the first class completing their studies in May 2012. The master’s program now offers three tracks including health advocacy, nurse education, and nurse administration.


Our Name is Mercy and Our Spirit is Compassion


Mount Mercy’s vitality is rooted in its commitment to meeting the needs of our time, just as Catherine McAuley, the founder of the Sisters of Mercy, did in her time. According to Tarbox, to meet the needs of those around her, McAuley focused on building pathways for continued success, not simply providing the bare minimum. Based on the same principles, Mount Mercy’s nursing program looks ahead, identifies needs, and takes initiative to meet those needs.

[photo] Donnelly Nursing Simulation Laboratory

“When students move on from here, they can say they were educated in the Mercy way…” — Dr. Mary Tarbox

“The master’s program has really met a need for nurses in the area—helping them become skilled in administrative duties, as educators, and being able to address the health care system that is coming,” Tarbox said.

“Now, students are coming to us and asking to be nurse practitioners. We get calls from physicians in town asking if we have a nurse practitioner program,” Tarbox said. “So, now, we’re looking at starting a program—because there’s a need and that is what Mount Mercy does.”

As Mount Mercy’s offerings grow, the whole community benefits.

“In the nursing program, we talk about vulnerable populations and how we will provide service to those populations—because of our heritage and because that’s who we are as professionals,” Tarbox said. “When students move on from here, they can say they were educated in the Mercy way which has a long, tradition of compassion in the United States.”

“The spirit of nursing and the spirit of Mercy are alive and well at Mount Mercy,” Sister James Marie concluded.

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