“Ruth Sleeper had an extraordinary impact on shaping nursing education and the profession of nursing, here at Mass General and nationally,” said Debbie Burke, RN, DNP, MBA, NEA-BC, Senior Vice President for Patient Care Services and Chief Nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital. “With her motto: ‘Always, always more to see, more to learn, more to do … to improve both care and cure,’ she reimagined nursing, formalizing and innovating in her approach to nursing education, professional development and clinical practice.”
Debbie was speaking at a ceremony on June 6 dedicating the second-floor suite in the Bulfinch Building to Ms. Sleeper, RN, BSN, MA, a 1922 graduate of the MGH School of Nursing who went on to become superintendent and later director of both the MGH School of Nursing and the MGH Department of Nursing from 1946-1966.
Recognizing a Visionary Nursing Educator
“It’s appropriate that this space, in this historic building, will cement Ruth Sleeper’s legacy and honor all nurses,” said Mass General president and Mass General Brigham Executive Vice President David F. M. Brown, MD. “Having worked alongside nurses on the Emergency Department team for many years, I am keenly aware of the importance of nursing contributions to our reputation for outstanding patient care.”
The ceremony was attended by members of the Sleeper family — grandnieces Leslie and Linda Siegel — as well as many nursing alumni, all of whom shared fond memories of a leader who developed a curriculum that revolutionized nursing practice and education.
Encouraging Professional Development
“Ruth was the director of the nursing school when many of us were students,” said Roberta “Bobbie” Nemeskal, RN, President of the MGH Nurses’ Alumni Association. “We were always encouraged to ask questions, never stop learning and take on leadership roles. She taught a 7:30 am class in Professional Development that we loved because there were no tests or papers — however, she set high expectations for us to combine clinical experience with academic rigor, think critically and lead efforts to improve patient care.”
Roberta arrived at Mass General in 1972 after serving as an army nurse with experience in intensive care. “Ruth encouraged me to pursue my passion and I became involved in research with a focus on anesthesia, quality improvement in the Intensive Care Unit and then, later, on a study of behavioral health.”
Other alumni mentioned Ms. Sleeper’s personal attention to each of her students.
“She believed nurses should be broadly educated and aware of the environment around them, and often managed to get us free tickets to the Boston Symphony Orchestra, theater and the Museum of Fine Arts.”
Another alumnae remembered when a student told Ms. Sleeper she had to drop out of nursing school for financial reasons. “She wrote her a personal check to allow her to complete her coursework and told her, ‘Nursing needs more people like you.’”
Ms. Sleeper’s vision for academic accreditation for the MGH School of Nursing was realized with the transition of the school to the MGH Institute for Health Professions in 1977, which encompasses degree programs in physical and occupational therapy, speech-language pathology, physician assistant studies as well as nursing.
Philanthropic support allows Mass General nursing leadership to continue to offer professional development scholarships and fellowships, encouraging nurses to continue asking the questions and providing the care that makes a difference to patients.
“Nursing is the foundation and backbone of Mass General,” said Debbie. “We are so happy to have this recognition of Ruth Sleeper with her portrait in the newly renamed suite here in the historic Bulfinch Building. We continue to be inspired by her focus on improving patient care and cure.”
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