UW School of Nursing E-news
December 2009  |  Return to issue home

B.S.N. Grad Uses Love of Nursing to Complete Ph.D. at 80

In the following letter, Beatrice Harrison Zuluaga ('52, B.S.N.), Ph.D., FRCNA, talks about the impact of her early education at the UW School of Nursing, Her story reminds us all of the power of passion and education. Zuluaga, who has lived around the world, recently presented her findings from her thesis at the MSNA (Multiple Sclerosis Association of Australasia) Conference in Hobart, Tasmania, Oct. 8-9.

Dear Lana,
It was so good to hear that Harborview (UW) grads are still meeting. I have happy memories of undergraduate days as a nursing student at Harborview. I graduated in August 1952, and still consider it the best nursing education ever.

I now live in Australia where I chose to retire in 2000. After graduation, I married Jose Zuluaga (UW '52) and we had a large family (nine children over the next 11 years). We lived in Des Moines Wash., and I worked part-time in the operating room at Harborview for the first few years, then in pediatrics at Burien General, and geriatrics at the Masonic Home in Zenith and Judson Park, which were close to our home.

After  the big layoff at Boeing in the late '60s, we decided to move to the "‘last frontier,"’ Australia, selling everything and starting anew. That is a story in itself. I could not find work in nursing, but branched out into teaching, as Australia was desperate for teachers at the time and had a surplus of nurses. Jose and I both taught at the middle school and junior high level, trying to understand Aussie English, which sounded so different than the US—this took about six months!

All our kids were placed at school and they picked up the nuances of the language very quickly.
Soon, the call of nursing was too great for me, but I had rather enjoyed teaching. Might it  be possible to combine the two? Was nursing practiced in a similar way in Australia? I had lots of questions.

I found myself going back in time to hospitals built along the lines of Florence Nightingale days, and nurse uniforms were out of the history books. The quality of nursing care was excellent, however, and I wanted to rejoin the profession. I was offered a trial position as a "Tutor Sister," on the basis of my BSN degree from UW. Nursing degrees were virtually unknown in Australia at the baccalaureate level in those days (mid '70s).

After a time of teaching in the hospital-based school of nursing, I was offered a government scholarship to do a post grad course in education, which meant I had to travel by train three times a week to Melbourne to attend classes for one year. Jose became gravely ill and died in 1982. The children had all finished high school.

The Australian government made a decision around that time that all nursing education should now take place in college based courses—no longer in hospital-based schools of nursing. This decision was not a gradual implementation, but immediate, and it caused a major upheaval in the community as existing schools chose different ways of coping. Most simply affiliated with nearby tertiary colleges and upgraded their programs in this way. Others decided to close and leave it to the universities to set up their own programs.

This was a time for me to make some major decisions as well.

My mother and her two sisters were living in Louisiana at the time and all were in their 80s and 90s. I felt it was probably time I moved closer to them to be of some support to them, while at the same time undertaking a master’s degree that would allow me to teach nursing in the U.S.

This worked out well and I completed my masters at Louisiana State University Medical Center in New Orleans. I was offered a teaching position at Nicholls State University (in Thibodaux, La.) for one semester after finishing the course and loved working and teaching community health among the Cajun people down the bayou. I returned to Australia at the end of my study leave, where the school of nursing was making its decision to close. My children were all doing well in their chosen fields, and some had decided to move back to the U.S.

Meanwhile Nicholls sent me an offer to take over the coordinator position for community health nursing. I accepted this and moved back to New Orleans where I bought a house and invited my mother and her remaining sister to join me. I commuted to Thibodaux for a couple of years to teach.

I was feeling the need to get closer to the patients again and to upgrade my nursing skills—so much was changing and I felt left behind. I resigned from Nicholls and accepted a position at  a large community hospital near my home, where I underwent  an upgrade orientation on a busy med-surg floor. This was very exciting for me, but I realized that I belonged in teaching and my health was not the best at the time. This was a field for younger people than I.

An opportunity came up to work in community health at LSUMC in New Orleans, which I accepted. I also enjoyed taking classes at the University of New Orleans in the evenings, leading to a grad certificate of gerontology. I found I was well on my way to fulfilling the coursework for an Ed.D. However, the university decided to offer only a Ph.D., which required a formal thesis based on research, so I developed and defended a proposal for this research.

Once again, plans changed. My two "ladies" (mother and her older sister, two amazing people) died at ages 96 and 97.It was time for me to think about retirement. My family in Australia was growing and I had recollections of the life in Australia, where I had made many friends.

At 72, I retired from LSUMC, sold my house and returned to Australia. (I called it "starting again after three score and ten"). I thought I would be able to start collecting data for my Ph.D., using an Australian study sample. Of course it was not as easy as that and it took a couple of years to find a university and an agency to work with.

I just thought I would let you all know that I have now completed my Ph.D.—just after my 80th birthday. It is never too late. I still credit the University of Washington and the basic education I received there for my lifelong love of learning and nursing.

Keep up the good work and continue to give the best possible nursing service to the community.

Kindest regards,

Beatrice Harrison Zuluaga, Ph.D., FRCNA (ret.)

December 2009  |  Return to issue home