At Watts School of Nursing, “A Tradition of Excellence” is much more than a catchphrase. It’s the timeless standard of the school for which Watts graduates are known.
Since its inception in 1895, Watts has focused exclusively on nursing education for entry into professional nursing practice. Throughout its history, the school has shown exceptional ability to meet the changing needs of students, health care consumers, and the nursing profession. Now more than ever before, the school is embracing change with a future filled with great promise and expectation for continued excellence in nursing education.
Watts School of Nursing, organized and incorporated in 1895 as part of Watts Hospital, was donated and endowed by George W. Watts for the people of Durham and Durham County. At the dedication, Mr. Watts indicated that the hospital was to be used for the care of the sick and the training of nurses. The school began its mission as a two-year diploma program, graduating the first Watts nurse in 1897.
During the school’s formative years, the classes were small and the program was largely an apprenticeship. The pupil nurses, as the students of the era were called, provided the mainstay of the hospital’s workforce and did virtually any task associated with the hospital from cleaning wards to stocking the furnace.
Although Watts Hospital had a succession of capable superintendents from 1895 to 1903, it was the strong hand of Mary Wyche that set the course for excellence at the school. Under her direction, the standards for admission were raised, the length of the program was expanded to three years, more emphasis was placed on theory, and a definitive schedule of lectures and floor duty was organized.
Watts hired its first full-time instructor, Edith Redwine, in 1923. She had impeccable credentials and a strong educational background, having served as both the Training School Inspector and the first president of the North Carolina League of Nursing Education.
Over the years, both the hospital and the school underwent numerous changes and expansions as both organizations sought to bring quality health care to the Durham community. Watts evolved into a prestigious school in North Carolina – becoming in 1956, the first diploma program in the state to achieve National League for Nursing accreditation.
In 1976, Watts Hospital combined with Lincoln Hospital to become Durham County General Hospital now Duke Regional Hospital. Although economics forced many hospitals to close their nursing schools, Durham Regional Hospital took the opposite approach, demonstrating strong and unwavering commitment to educating nurses for the good of the Durham community. In 1980, Watts moved into the newly constructed George W. Watts Building on the hospital campus where the school grew and advanced with the hospital toward a shared mission of excellence in health care and nursing education.
Embracing an opportunity to enhance the program, Watts partnered with Mount Olive College in 2004 to offer a 5-semester program of study leading to a Diploma in Nursing and an Associate of Science Degree in Health Science. In 2007, Watts moved into its current facility, which allowed the school to significantly increase its enrollment.
Throughout its history, a collective spirit of caring, professionalism, and excellence in nursing has carried forth with each generation of Watts graduates. Today, Watts has a long-standing reputation for excellence in nursing education and the distinction of being the oldest nursing program in North Carolina with over 3,400 graduates. The school continues to position its program for the future while preserving the best from its past.