Roots of remarkable care

Presbyterian Hospital School of Nursing alumni reflect on school’s legacy, lessons learned

Through every shift and bedside encounter, a nurse impacts thousands of lives with care and compassion. For more than a century, the Presbyterian Hospital School of Nursing trained class after class of nurses. How many patients have felt the impact of the lessons taught within those walls? It’s impossible to know.

Today, the Presbyterian Hospital School of Nursing Alumni Association is a testament to that service. Though the school closed in 2006, the legacy lives on with each nurse. Brenda Schooley (’75) has witnessed the school’s reputation firsthand.

“We have graduates all over the country,” Schooley said. “You would hear comments like ‘Oh, you’re a Presbyterian nurse.’ It was a very well-respected, well-organized program here in Charlotte.”

For Schooley (’75), enrolling at the school was a chance to pursue a dream. 

“My mother sold eggs,” Schooley recalled with a smile. “We lived in the country. That’s how she paid for me to go to nursing school. It was a whole lot of eggs.

It was a path well-chosen. Schooley remembers when she won the Bedside Nurse of the Year award upon graduation. To this day, Schooley prioritizes compassion and listening to patients as senior director of patient care services at Novant Health. Every now and then, she likes to sit down and read letters she received from patients in the ’70s and ’80s.

“My whole career has been about relationships because as a nurse, you have the opportunity to be involved in some of the most intimate situations with patients,” Schooley said. “I didn’t do anything special, but I listened and respected them.”

Compassion was a major theme for Charlotte Steedly (’01), too. Today, Steedly is a patient experience advisor at Novant Health. She said instructors make sure to emphasize taking care of the whole person.

“You came away with knowing how to treat people and not just the patient,” Steedly said. “The instructors taught us these patients are people. They’re human and they’re going through something.”

There was also a strong camaraderie at the school. When Schooley attended, the students lived in a dormitory behind the school. It fostered a community that Schooley remains a part of today. She has worked for what is now Novant Health for 48 years.

“What I respect and support so much about that time was the sense of family,” Schooley said. “We truly lived there, we worked there, we staffed the hospital.”

Steedly is grateful for the clinical experience she had at the school, where students would work a full shift of eight hours or more.

“I think the school was able to provide you more hands-on experience in addition to the bookwork,” Steedly said. “It was like, ‘Here’s the lesson. Now, let’s go apply that.’”

During her clinicals, she also learned the value of working together with fellow nurses and certified nursing assistants.

“I was a nurse who never asked for help because I thought I could do it on my own,” Steedly said. “But the school taught me we’re all here together. We’re working as a team.”

Today, the alumni association is going strong with more than 1,800 members. Historically, the alumni have gathered for a homecoming every September, though the homecoming was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19. At the event, there’s a celebration for the “Golden Girls,” the 50th anniversary class and everyone tells funny stories. There are speeches, a breakfast, a luncheon, networking and lot of storytelling.

“The nurses that come to the homecoming are usually anywhere from 70 to 100 years old,” Schooley said. “I absolutely love getting together with these ladies, and the stories they tell you are unbelievable.”

Steedly enjoys hearing how nursing has changed through the generations and just how much of nursing is timeless to this day.

“It’s just funny to hear so many stories of what these ladies went through, how healthcare has changed, both in technology and in technique,” Steedly said. “We’ve all been through the same situations. Maybe the stories aren’t exactly the same, but the experiences are. That’s what stands out to me.”