When Peggy Doyle went away to college, she planned to become an elementary school teacher. But when her mother was diagnosed with cancer, Doyle rushed home to Arlington, Virginia, to care for her.
It was during this trying time that her mother’s good friend who was a nurse suggested a new career path to Doyle. She suggested that Doyle would make a good one.
“I was 19 and full of hope,” Doyle says. “I thought maybe if I became a nurse, I could help others who were as sick as my mom and maybe even be part of finding a cure.”
She joined a nursing program at Washington Hospital Center and was soon a registered nurse working in many Washington, D.C., area hospitals. Before long, another friend, this one a professor at George Mason University, suggested she earn a BSN at George Mason. Support was available through the Nurse Training Act, so Doyle joined the university’s first nursing class.
“What a wonderful experience that was for all of us, professors included,” says Doyle, BSN ’76. “The new students, many just out of high school, were impressed by these experienced nurses in their midst. We were a close-knit group, and many of the friendships have lasted through all the years.”
Forty years have passed since a core group of administrators, faculty, and nursing professionals established the department of nursing. What began as a single bachelor’s degree program within what was then the College of Professional Studies and chaired by the late Evelyn Cohelan has grown into the School of Nursing, a part of the College of Health and Human Services . Since the school’s beginnings in the early 1970s, more than 9,000 nurses have graduated from Mason.
Doyle recently returned to the Fairfax Campus to help her former classmates and professors celebrate the program’s anniversary. Alumni and current and former faculty gathered for a reception and a day of professional development, discussing some of the most pressing issues in the nursing profession.
“We are all over the country now, but there are a few people I have kept in touch with over the years,” says Doyle. She was especially looking forward to seeing some of her professors, including Ann Diloreto and Doreen C. Harper, who taught the inaugural class.
For School of Nursing director Carol Urban, the 40th anniversary celebrates the school’s legacy and serves as a prelude to the next 40 years of continuing innovations that will benefit students and communities. The school now offers a number of pathways to a BSN or an MSN, as well as two doctoral programs, a PhD and a doctor of nursing practice.
Doyle went on to earn an MSN in adult psychiatric nursing from Catholic University and was certified as a clinical nurse specialist in psychiatric nursing in 1978. Over the course of her career, she has mentored students from Mason and other universities, while working in the psychiatric unit at Inova Fairfax Hospital, directing an outpatient program for the chronically mentally ill in Alexandria, and entering private practice.
“A valuable lesson I learned at Mason was that I could be a good student when I found what I loved,” says Doyle. “I learned to focus and that I could do whatever I put my mind to.”
Doyle also became a pilot. For a time, she flew all over the country promoting new technology for patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and other illnesses that cause “locked-in syndrome.” The technology allows the patients to speak, type, and control their environment with their eyes. She continues to volunteer her time and flying skills with groups such as Angel Flight, which transports patients needing specialized medical care and their families.
Currently, Doyle has her own private mental health therapy practice in Warrenton, Virginia. “Nursing is about the patient. As our health care system becomes more complex, one central goal should always be to pay attention to the unique needs of the individual who is under your care,” says Doyle. “Keep compassion high on your list of skills—and don’t forget the families who are suffering with the patient.”
To see photos, videos, and stories from the School of Nursing’s 40th anniversary celebration, visit chhs.gmu.edu/anniversary .
—Sudha Kamath and Colleen Kearney Rich, MFA ’05