by Diane Alter

New ideas keep one of the nation’s oldest nursing schools on the cutting edge.

By Diane Alter

Every nurse has a story about the path he or she chooses. Most insist that nursing is not simply a career, but a calling. That calling may not come from an audible voice or divine sign from above.

Masters degrees. They come from myriad cultural backgrounds and from different parts of the region. But they all come for the same reason: to make a difference.

Not surprisingly, they follow the lead of the school’s Dean, Mary E. Kelley.
“I always knew I wanted to be a nurse,” she says. “There was never any question what I would do.”

Kelley not only embodies what it means to devote yourself to the profession, but where the profession can take you in a relatively short amount of time. Just eight years after graduating from Boston College School of Nursing—ready to dedicate herself to “devoted service for human welfare”—Kelley was named Dean of the Trinitas School of Nursing. “Things were different back then,” Kelley says, downplaying the accomplishment. “Yes, I was young. But I was ready for the responsibility.”

The Trinitas School of Nursing first opened its doors in 1891 as Elizabeth General Hospital and Dispensary School of Nursing. It went by several names over the ensuing years, before taking its current name in 2000 when Elizabeth General Medical Center and St. Elizabeth’s Hospital consolidated to form Trinitas Regional Medical Center. The school was accredited by the National League for Nursing in 1959 and, in 1971, formed a Cooperative Nursing Program with Union County College. This enables students to receive an Associate in Science along with the Diploma in Nursing. At this time, the school made a commitment to serve educationally disadvantaged students, non-traditional nursing candidates, and those looking to switch careers.

By the mid 1970’s, the school had opened the country’s first full-time evening division in a diploma program, enrolling many students who previously would not have been able to pursue nursing. The school launched an innovative weekend division in 1987. It was the first of its kind in the region and one of the first in the country. Students pursuing a career in nursing could now do so while maintaining full-time employment and seeing to the needs of their families during the week. The inaugural weekend class achieved an astounding 100% National Council Licensure Examination-RN passage rate. Since 1990, the school’s overall passage rate has averaged 97 percent.

“Our open access philosophy and our flexible day, night, weekend, part- and full-time classes enable many aspiring nursing students to realize their dream,” Kelley says proudly.

How does an old school stay current? With pioneering instruction. The Trinitas School of Nursing is one of the first in the country to integrate simulation technology into its curriculum. Its Learning/Simulation Center is equipped with state-of-the art equipment, which enables students to log critical hands-on experience. “We use patient simulators and program them with specific ailments,” Kelley explains. “One might be having a heart attack or appendicitis—we can even program a simulator to give birth. These lifelike kinds of situations provide invaluable experience, promote active learning and steer students toward their professional role as safe and capable nurses.”

In 2007, the school became the first in the U.S. at which every eligible faculty member had earned a Certified Nurse Educator credential from the National League for Nursing. In 2008, the League officially recognized the School of Nursing as a Center of Excellence in Nursing Education—the first school in the Garden State (and the first Cooperative Nursing Program in the country) to receive such recognition. Re-designation must be earned every three years through an arduous re-application process. In 2011, the school was awarded re-designation, confirming its high standards and consistent excellence. Kelley herself was recognized in 2011 when she was awarded the Unity Achievement Award from the Union County Human Relations Commission for her extra-ordinary contributions to the promotion of respect for human rights, human dignity and cultural diversity in Union County.

“The school’s success is not about me,” she is quick to point out. “It’s about a team of people with the same vision, goals and objectives. I definitely didn’t do this alone. I have a great staff. That’s how I get things done. I don’t take or want any credit. I couldn’t have gotten anything done by myself.”

Editor’s Note: Tough though it may be, nursing continues to grow in popularity as a career choice. Trinitas’s January 2013 class of 96 graduates (85 women and 11 men) was its largest ever. Anastasia Filonova, Jane Mone and Romina Tara received High Nursing Honors. For more information on Trinitas School of Nursing visit or call (908) 659-5200.