By Elizabeth Valente
Reflecting a 100-year transformation from a school of nursing to a multidiscipline health sciences institution, Samuel Merritt College became Samuel Merritt University (SMU) on Jan. 27. The announcement was made the night before by university President Sharon Diaz, PhD, at Founder's Day, the institution's centennial kickoff celebration.
Audrey Berman, PhD, RN, AOCN, dean of nursing, has been with the institution for the past 35 years and has watched it grow from a hospital diploma nursing program into the current multidisciplinary institution.
"Achieving university designation is another external validation that all the work that has gone before was worth the effort," Berman said. "We are entering our second century and I am confident we will continue to be innovative, forward-thinking and a great place to work or study."
Cornelius Hopper, MD, chair of the Samuel Merritt Board of Regents, said that changing the name to SMU better reflects the range of professional programs including doctoral degrees and research opportunities offered by the institution.
"We have witnessed momentum building during the last decade of growth and expansion," Hopper said. "The achievements of our graduates, and the quality and rigor of academic programs, gave us the confidence to embrace the vision of becoming nationally recognized."
Over the past century, SMU has evolved from a small school of nursing toa premier health sciences institution offering undergraduate and graduate education programs. It is now the largest source of registered nurses in the state of California, and the only provider of physical and occupational therapists, physician assistants and podiatric physicians in the East Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Recognizing the importance of advanced educational degrees in the expanding healthcare field, SMU offers doctoral programs in physical therapy and podiatric medicine, and plans to offer doctorate degrees in pharmacy and nursing in 2010.
"It is only fitting that this will occur within a university setting that acknowledges the value of doctoral preparation for healthcare providers," Berman said. "Our nursing graduates will continue to fill the community need for nurses who provide evidence-based and client-centered care at the hospital bedside, in the home, in our neighborhoods, in every place where individuals, families and groups have health needs."
Diaz agreed, saying it takes highly skilled and compassionate professionals to tackle current healthcare challenges.
"The healthcare system has become increasingly complex, requiring a greater degree of scientific knowledge of practitioners across all health sciences disciplines. Graduates of our institution receive that critical knowledge through rigorous coursework and clinical internships."
Nearly 1,300 students are enrolled at SMU, with campuses in Oakland, Sacramento, San Francisco and San Mateo.
Elizabeth Valente is a media relations director, Samuel Merritt University, Oakland.