SCC Celebrates 60th Anniversary of High-Ranking Practical Nursing Program

By: Christian Oberly

Graduates ranging from 1961 through 2019 of Salem Community College’s Practical Nursing program who attended the celebration posed for a photo in the Davidow lobby. (Staff photo/ Christian Oberly)

On Saturday, Oct. 5, guests at Salem Community College were treated to brunch while learning about the past and present of SCC’s successful and influential Practical Nursing program.

The event began with Assistant Professor Karen Jones, MSN, RN, giving an overview of the history of SCC’s Practical Nursing program, which began in 1958 with the opening of the Salem County School for Practical Nursing. In the following year, the first class graduated and the school’s name was also changed to the Salem County Vocational-Technical Institute — which added scientific glassblowing as well as drafting & design to its repertoire of programs. When Salem Community College was officially founded in 1972, Practical Nursing became one of its top programs.

Jones covered many interesting details of the program’s 60-year history, including the shift from all-white uniforms (which were symbolic of cleanliness in the medical field) to today’s green uniforms which match SCC’s school color.

A table at the event displayed photos and all sorts of nursing accouterments. (Staff photo/ Christian Oberly)

She also touched on the program’s present state. In 2019, SCC’s Practical Nursing program was ranked #1 (out of 46) in the state by and #2 (out of 29) by Both websites lauded the program’s ability to prepare students for real-world scenarios using state-of-the-art lab simulations.

Speaking at the event, SCC President Michael Gorman reminded the audience that when someone is in need of medical care, more often than not, ” [T]he person you have the relationship with is the nurse,” stressing, “This profession cannot be minimized in any way.”

Rep. Jeff Van Drew also attended the celebration to show his support for SCC. He relayed an anecdote from his days as a dentist which expressed the importance of nurses and highlighted an oft-unrecognized role they play in the healing process, as the person who not only provides care, but also compassion.

Rep. Jeff Van Drew spoke at the event about the importance of the nursing profession and what it means to him. (Staff photo/ Christian Oberly)

“When you’re doing something a little more difficult […] the patient always would turn and look at my dental assistant. […] When those sensitive eyes, those people who are worried, those people who are nervous, those people who need help, who need compassion, when they look at you with those eyes — it’s a very special thing.”

And although the program is in its 60th year, Van Drew added, “The uniforms may be different, some things may change, but the role of a nurse hasn’t.”

A photograph from the program’s past. (Photo courtesy of Salem Community College.)

Other guests included Assemblyman Adam Taliaferro, Deputy Speaker John Burzichelli, Deputy Freeholder Director Scott Griscom, and graduates of the Practical Nursing program ranging from 1961 to 2019, as well as other students, faculty, and staff of the college.

The event was sponsored by Salem Medical Center, and their CEO, Tammy Torres, DNP, MSN, RN, introduced the keynote speaker for the event, her Chief Nursing Officer, Donna Carson, MSN, RN. (Both women noted that they began their careers as PNs.)

In her address, Carson provided an update on the Salem Medical Center, including info about the construction of a 26-bed in-patient behavioral health unit, the implementation of a transportation program called RoundTrip to get patients to their appointments, the usage of hyperbaric chambers in their Wound Care Center, and several other upgrades for the facility that are being worked on.

In addition to bringing everyone up to speed on the state of the Salem Medical Center, Carson also spoke about current trends and issues in the field of nursing.

Donna Carson, MSN, RN, from Salem Medical Center, was the event’s keynote speaker. Staff photo/ Christian Oberly)

“Thirty-three years ago, when I was taking care of patients, who, when they had a gallbladder out, it was not unusual to stay in for a week. Now, you’re out, sometimes the same day, if not, then the next day. Those people still need the same amount of instruction, but now you’ve condensed that instruction from seven days down to one day. So the nurses are really expected to do a lot more in a short amount of time,” Carson explained.

Fortunately, SCC is preparing Practical Nursing students for success.

A selection of yearbooks showing the evolution of SCC and its nursing program were also available for guests to peruse. (Staff photo/ Christian Oberly)

Carson went on to praise SCC’s program for the stellar nurses that it teaches, and she commended the school for the high test scores students coming out of the program earn on the NCLEX as one major indicator of the program’s success. “We like hiring new graduates from here, because they’re practically oriented already.” When people are talking about going to school for nursing, Carson tells them, “You don’t have to go far, […] this is the place to be.”

She ended her keynote by showing the audience a video produced by the Cleveland Clinic. The video shows many people in a hospital setting and words appear onscreen to indicate what they’re currently going through. It serves as a reminder to be kind and compassionate to the people you meet. A lesson that Carson always espoused to the nursing students she’s taught over the years was that they should treat each patient as if they were one of their own family members.

“When you ask a patient what they want from their hospital stay, a lot of the times, the number one word is empathy.”

Toward the end of the event, graduates from years past were honored with a small gift. One woman, upon receiving hers, stood up and addressed the audience. Speaking about the profession of nursing, she said, “It’s not what you do — it’s what you become.”