The 100-Year Project: When Nurses Built an Israeli Nation
An Evening with Professor Freda DeKeyser Ganz, Ph.D., RN

Two dozen women gathered in Seward Park on Monday, August 6 to hear Professor Freda DeKeyser Ganz discuss the unique history of the Henrietta Szold Hadassah Hebrew University School of Nursing. Gathered in the beautiful home of Cathy Godwin, attendees settled into the warm summer evening with glasses of fresh lemonade to hear a true story about how a commitment to innovation and excellence allowed a school of nursing and its graduates to shape a future state.

During her presentation, “The 100-Year Project: When Nurses Built an Israeli Nation,” Professor DeKeyser Ganz recounted the remarkable number of firsts attributable to the school, evidence of its commitment to innovation. The school, she told attendees, was not only housed in the first hospital in pre-state Israel and home to the territory’s first nurses but was also the territory’s first post-graduate education program for women. Other firsts followed in these early, groundbreaking footsteps. In 1975, the school opened Israel’s first baccalaureate program in nursing, and in 2001, Israel’s first clinical masters program in nursing as well. More than this, she recounted, the earliest philosophy of the school represented an entirely new and “completely avant-garde” way of conceptualizing the role of nurses and nursing. While nurses elsewhere remained the “handmaidens of physicians,” nurses at Hadassah were charged with overseeing the public health of an entire population. Professor DeKeyser Ganz explained that Hadassah’s commitment to innovation in nursing continues today. Recent innovations include the opening of Hadassah’s Ph.D. program in nursing in 2016, the implementation of team-based learning strategies to educate the next generation of nurses, and the work of recent clinical masters students who have gone on to revolutionize treatment for life-threatening conditions including congestive heart failure. The school’s diversity – 60% of today’s nursing students at Hadassah are Arabs, and a growing number of students are men, particularly Orthodox Jewish men – is additional evidence of Hadassah’s capacity for change and reinvention.

Professor DeKeyser Ganz also spoke about the school’s commitment to excellence, another tradition evident since its beginning. 400 applicants, she recounted, applied for the 40 seats available in the school’s first class of nurses. The competition for enrollment then and since ensures that Hadassah nurses are the best and brightest in the nation. Since the establishment of national boards for nurses in Israel, graduates of the Hadassah School of Nursing have maintained a 100% pass rate. Acknowledging the remarkable caliber of the school and its graduates, Israel’s Higher Education Commission said in 2010 that Hadassah “should be commended” for the quality of its nursing education.

As the professor spoke, it became clear to everyone present how Hadassah’s early and sustained commitment to innovation and excellence established the conditions that allowed the organization to grow from a school and a hospital into the healthcare infrastructure of the modern state of Israel and, indeed, to form the backbone of the state itself. It has been a 100-year project, and along the way, the nurses of Hadassah built have an Israeli nation. Professor DeKeyser Ganz is herself a part of this rich history and tradition. As head of the Doctoral Program in nursing and of Research and Development, she is shaping the future of nursing in Israel and the nature of medical care worldwide. In doing so, she shares in the legacy of past Hadassah nursing revolutionaries, women like Judith Steiner-Freud, a young nurse and nursing instructor who refused to cancel classes during the 1948 war declaring, “we will need nurses now more than ever.” Steiner-Freud went on to be the director of the school of nursing from 1968-1983. Like Steiner-Freud, Professor DeKeyser Ganz is a bold nursing professional engaged in the work of shaping an Israeli Nation.