First School of Nursing Graduates Reflect on How Mason Made the Difference

By Sudha Kamath

As George Mason University’s School of Nursing celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, some of its first graduates are recalling the path that brought them to George Mason, and how they’ve succeeded since.

Eight of the first students to earn their degrees from the School of Nursing were honored recently when they reunited at a School of Nursing Senior Reception attended by more than 200 people. Diane Benton, Peggy Doyle, Mildred Fitch, Camille Grosso, Nancy Ryan, Tina Price, Christine Sheehy and Stephanie Zeman shared memories of the Class of 1976.

Nursing First Graduates: Bottom row, from left: Nancy Ryan, Mildred Fitch, Camille Grosso, Peggy Doyle. Top row, from left: Diane Benton, Stephanie Zeman, Tina L. Price, Christine Sheehy. Photo courtesy of Katie Howe.

Some of Mason’s first nursing graduates were recently honored a School of Nursing reception. Bottom row, from left: Nancy Ryan, Mildred Fitch, Camille Grosso, Peggy Doyle. Top row, from left: Diane Benton, Stephanie Zeman, Tina L. Price, Christine Sheehy. Photo courtesy of Katie Howe.

Peggy Doyle was Margaret Whitehouse at the time of graduation. The Warrenton, Va., native originally went to college in Ohio hoping to become an elementary school teacher, but rushed home when her mother became seriously ill with cancer. It was then that a visitor pointed Doyle to a new career path. “My mother’s good friend was a nurse and she suggested to me that I would make a good one. 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. I was 19 and full of hope,” recalls Doyle.

She joined the School of Nursing at Washington Hospital Center and “became aware of the acute psychological pain of illness. I decided psychiatric nursing was what I wanted to do.” Doyle became a registered nurse and worked in pediatrics and as a private duty nurse in many Washington, D.C., area hospitals and homes.

A friend of Doyle’s sister-in-law was a professor of nursing at Mason and suggested to Doyle she continue her education at Mason with the Nurse Training Act that was available to fund nursing education at the time. “I didn’t skip a beat. I received the federal grant and entered Mason’s School of Nursing,” says Doyle. “What a wonderful experience that was for all of us, professors included. 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 have kept up many of the friendships through all the years.”

Doyle earned her BSN from Mason in 1976. “The most valuable lesson I learned at Mason was that I could be a good student when I found what I loved. I learned to give up free time in order to get my work done without sacrificing the needs of my husband and children. I learned to budget my time and avoid distraction,” says Doyle. “I learned to focus … and that I could do whatever I put my mind to.”

She went on to earn her MSN in adult psychiatric nursing from Catholic University and was certified as a clinical nurse specialist in psychiatric nursing in 1978.

Among other positions, Doyle worked as a mentor to nursing students from Mason and other universities working in the psychiatric unit at Fairfax Hospital. She also became a pilot and flew all over the country promoting new technology for patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, referred to as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, and other illnesses that cause “locked-in syndrome.” The technologies allowed the patients to speak, type and control their environment with their eyes.

Currently Doyle is working part time in her own private mental health therapy practice in Warrenton. “Nursing is about the patient. As our health care system becomes more complex and the challenges of nursing become more demanding, one central goal should always be to pay attention to the unique needs of the individual who is under your care,” advises Doyle. “Keep compassion high on your list of skills. Don’t forget the families who are suffering with the patient. They also need your help.”

Grosso, of Annandale, Va., was a busy diploma nurse, wife and mother of two when she first heard about Mason’s new degree. The classes fit her schedule. “Having Mason here was perfect! I could reach my goal,” she says. Grosso earned her BSN from Mason and went on to earn her MSN from Catholic University and her PhD from Case Western Reserve University.

She now works as the cognitive-behavioral therapist for the largest integrated medical practice in Northern Virginia.

Grosso was inspired to go into nursing by her father’s cousin. “I saw that she had a wonderful life and it was because she was a nurse, so that’s what I wanted to be,” says Grosso. “It turned out to be the right decision for me.”

She says Mason offered the foundation for her career. “My first love was, and has always been, psychiatric nursing. Mason opened doors for me to go on to graduate school and become the therapist I am today.”

Her advice for the next generation of nurses? “Be proud to be a nurse. Do not quiet your voice, but use it in the interest of your patient’s health and well-being, as well as your own professional development.”

Doyle and Grosso are looking forward to reminiscing with fellow first classmates and other alumni at the School of Nursing’s 40th anniversary celebration set for October 10‒11, 2014 on the Fairfax Campus.