Featured Story, Features

The Nurse Will See You Now: Inside the Connell School of Nursing

Cushing Hall is quiet now. Though the crisp, white nursing uniforms that once dominated the building have become ghosts of the past, they remain an integral part of the rich history of the Boston College Connell School of Nursing. CSON’s relocation to its new home in Maloney Hall after 55 years in Cushing Hall marks a new era for the school as it adjusts to the changing nature of nursing in the 21st century. While the building and facilities may be new, CSON has made a point to commemorate its past as it progresses toward the future.

The story of CSON begins in the 1940s, when high school graduates who wanted to become nurses earned a nursing degree in three years from a hospital school and gained clinical experience by doing patient rounds in the affiliated hospital. If they wanted to, nurses could return to college to pursue a bachelor’s degree.

BC’s School of Nursing opened in Feb. 1947 with a class of 35 to accommodate the nursing education system at the time. Though the school was originally based in Newbury St. on Boston, nursing students had to commute to the Chestnut Hill campus for some classes and labs while gaining clinical experience working in Boston hospitals. After completing hospital school, students could enroll at the School of Nursing and receive a bachelor’s degree in nursing in two years.

Enter Archbishop Richard Cushing, voicing the concerns of the Archdiocese of Boston on the nursing shortage in its network of Catholic hospitals. Cushing was involved in the planning and development of the new building on the Chestnut Hill campus that would eventually bear his name and become the new home for the School of Nursing. The school’s integration into BC’s main campus with its relocation to Cushing Hall in 1960 was a reflection of a larger movement in Boston’s Catholic community, as an increasing number of Catholic colleges were establishing nursing schools on their own campuses to attract students. This marked not only a change in nursing education, but also a new chapter in BC’s history.

The first women to enroll at BC were all nursing students, making the previously all-male BC a co-educational university. The change, however, was not without its obstacles—vastly outnumbered by their male peers, the nursing students were initially not welcomed and were subject to harassment from other students. Undeterred, the nursing students forged on, and the reputation of the BC School of Nursing grew over the next several decades and encouraged more women to enroll at the University.

In 2003, the School of Nursing was renamed to honor businessman William F. Connell, a member of the BC Board of Trustees and a major benefactor of the school. In 2015, CSON relocated to occupy the second and third floors of Maloney Hall and underwent a complete renovation to accommodate the current 411 undergraduate and 276 graduate nursing students.

Nursing remains one of the most popular majors at BC, a sign of the strength of the programs offered at CSON. In addition to offering bachelor’s degrees in nursing, CSON offers many graduate degrees, including a master’s degree developed specifically for students who do not have a previous nursing degree.


study lounge

Students in CSON must complete 79 credits in the nursing major, in addition to the University’s core curriculum and optional electives. First-year students spend most of their time in theory classes and lab courses learning the fundamentals of human anatomy and physiology. In the second year, students begin to take science classes related to clinical practice such as pathophysiology, the study of the development of disease. Simulation labs begin to play a larger role in their coursework, in which students can apply what they have learned in lecture by working with computerized simulation dummies. Small class sizes and several lab instructors ensure that the students benefit from the hands-on experience as much as possible. Upperclassmen take even more specialized courses but spend as much time gaining clinical experience from patient rounds in their placements, as often as they are in the classroom. Nursing students also have the opportunity to conduct independent research or work with a faculty member. By the time they graduate, nursing students have at least 800 hours of clinical experience learning to deliver patient care in different settings.

Graduating classes from the 1980s up to the Class of 2018 have taken classes on either the Track A or Track B system, with the former evenly distributing nursing classes over the student’s four years and the latter accelerating the first two years of the curriculum to offer a flexible semester in his or her junior year. This “flex” semester can be used to enroll in prep classes for standardized tests, pursue other academic interests, apply for internship opportunities, or study-abroad experiences. CSON’s administration has recently changed the nursing curriculum by abolishing the track system in favor of offering all students the “flex” semester in their junior year.

For clinical experience, BC nursing students are assigned to a placement in one of over 150 partner hospitals and clinical agencies in the Boston area. At their placement, the nursing students are assigned one patient to work with for the day. Clinical instructors inform the students beforehand about the patient’s current health and important medical information, and encourage independent research online or in their pathophysiology textbook to gain a better understanding of the patient’s condition. Nursing students collaborate with the nurses on duty, but eventually learn to work independently to provide the best care for their patient for the duration of their clinical round.



Regan Marooney, CSON ’18:

To her own and her family’s surprise, Regan Marooney, CSON ’18, raised her hand on a whim on a tour of BC when a tour guide asked if anyone was interested in nursing.

“[Nursing] just kind of fell into my lap,” Marooney said. “I never really knew what I wanted to do, but I just love people. I love listening to people’s stories, talking to people, and making people happy. I didn’t really know how to turn that into a career.”

It took a while for Marooney to realize that nursing was the perfect career choice for her, as she was able to use her love of socializing with others to serve a greater purpose. Marooney does clinical rounds at Tufts Medical Center in the nephrology unit, and plans to specialize in pediatric cardiology. She believes that nursing is a rewarding career that provides countless learning opportunities, as well as a greater appreciation for life.

Marooney notes that the patients are often excited to meet the student nurses since they know that the students are only focused on them. Nurses are usually assigned to several patients at a time—as a result, they can only afford to spend a few moments with a patient before running off to the next one. Like the other nurses on the floor, it is her responsibility to keep the patients comfortable throughout their treatment, even if it just means talking to them. While the patients may seem unruly at times, they soon realize that the students are genuinely interested in knowing about them as people.

“A person is so much more than the disease or illness that they have,” Marooney said. “You spend more time with the patient rather than diagnosing the disease—you’re more focused on the well-being of the patient and really get to learn about them. That’s the best way to heal someone.”

Photo courtesy of Ashley Bowman

Ashley Bowman CSON ’17:

Nurses are heroes in the eyes of Ashley Bowman, CSON ’17. After spending her junior year of high school in and out of the hospital receiving treatment for a brain injury, she realized that her nurses were the ones who made all the difference during her recovery. Her experience inspired her to become a nurse herself and specialize in pediatric oncology.

“The nurses were the ones who were really taking care of me,” Bowman said. “They were there for me to talk to them. [They weren’t] just helping me physically, but also helping me mentally and emotionally, and I want to be able to do that for someone else.”

Bowman does clinical rounds at Massachusetts General Hospital on a general admission floor, where she interacts with a variety of patients with different ailments. The copious amount of previous preparation in CSON came in handy—being assigned to a general admission floor has allowed her to use all of the skills from theory classes and simulation labs in a real-world environment, and also speaks to the versatility that is required of nurses.

To Bowman, knowing a patient’s life story is just as important as knowing his or her medical diagnosis. While the patients themselves may vary, the purpose of her clinical rounds is always the same: companionship. Spending the day with only one patient fosters a special bond between the student and patient and adds a refreshingly human element to health care.

“It’s about curing the person, not the illness,” Bowman said. “Your number one job is your patient—it’s to make sure your patient is okay at all times and as comfortable as possible. That’s a big part of the healing process.”


Sonia Chiamaka Okorie, CSON ’17:

When she is not busy as an RA or a trip leader as part of Jamaica Magis, Sonia Chiamaka Okorie, CSON ’17, can be found working on global health projects in various African communities. Her commitment to service stems from her inherent passion for learning about different people’s perspectives. Her efforts have not gone unnoticed, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Committee has named her the newest MLK Scholar.

“The MLK Scholarship is interesting because you don’t really apply for it—your entire college experience leading up to junior year is your resume,” Okorie said. “That journey for me was more about finding my place at BC and really getting to know the people around me and empowering them in any way I could. That’s what led me to do service trips, be an RA, and even what led me to nursing school.”

Okorie originally came to BC as a political science major with plans to become a diplomat. A trip to visit family in Nigeria, however, caused her to re-evaluate her academic choices.

“I realized that if I wanted to go back to Nigeria one day and help people like my family, I couldn’t do that through politics the same way I could through nursing,” she said.

Okorie spent a summer working with the Ghana Health and Education Initiative as a volunteer by collecting data about the epidemiology of a local village. She incorporated her volunteering experience into her independent research project that explored the correlation between educating mothers on prenatal care and the use of bed nets to prevent malaria. She strove to educate new mothers and provide them with necessary materials to put those preventive measures into practice.

Okorie plans to pursue a global nursing career, using her experiences and abilities to provide her patients with the necessary emotional support system to supplement their medical care.

“There’s no right way to be a nurse,” Okorie said. “Nursing is the right fit for me because the qualities that I developed as a person and the things that I value in other people are all part of nursing. There’s a unique power to being a nurse—no one else can really play the role that [they] play.”

stained glass


A stained glass window in a conference room in Maloney Hall depicting St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Catherine of Siena, and St. Radegund is a preserved relic from the Cushing Hall chapel and serves as one of the many reminders of CSON’s humble beginnings. Maloney Hall has been renovated into dedicated lab, lounge, and library spaces for nursing students and offices for faculty.

“The students are learning the essentials of a practice profession,” Sean Clarke, associate dean for undergraduate programs at CSON, said. “We’re laying that foundation.”

These upgraded facilities provide a more conducive environment to perfecting various nursing skills before the students even begin clinical rounds and provide the basis for being able to collaborate with other health care professionals in the future.



Five exam rooms, exact replicas of those found in hospitals and clinics, are used for examinations and private consultations. Here, nursing students learn how to perform physical examinations and interview patients. Outside each exam room is a computer station connected to an online database of patient records. The Brown Family Clinical Lab consists of 12 hospital beds separated by curtain dividers and replete with standard medical equipment. Nursing students undergo task training in the clinical lab, learning how to take vitals, prepare injections and IVs, and dress wounds on simulation dummies.

“They learn basic skills in a lab setting and can then take those skills on the road,” Clarke said, explaining how the clinical lab exposes students to a wide range of health ailments and hospital scenarios. While the students mostly practice on simulation dummies, children and expectant mothers sometimes volunteer to be patients.

By far, the two simulation labs are the crown jewels of the school. One simulation lab is composed of three different rooms that are connected via live video feed. Here, students are presented with a medical scenario and evaluated on their performance as they treat the patient. The main simulation room resembles a standard hospital room, complete with a bed, monitors, and a computerized simulation dummy as the patient. The room conditions and dummy are controlled by the instructor in the adjacent control room, where the instructor can observe the students either through a one-way mirror or by watching several video feeds from cameras placed around the room. Other students can sit in the nearby conference room and see the same video feeds from the cameras in the simulation room on a TV. Afterward, the students and instructors can then review and discuss the scenario and how to handle similar situations in the future.



The simulation labs are valuable learning tools that expose the students to a wide range of medical scenarios. They emphasize teamwork and help prepare the students not only for what they may face during their clinical rounds, but also for what they can expect in their professional careers.

CSON’s mission is to keep up with the changing face of health care and the roles nurses play in society. Hospitals have expanded outside of major cities by establishing satellite campuses in an effort to bring health care closer to the patient—as a result, nurses have begun to work more in these community clinics. In the past, 80 percent of nurses worked in hospitals—the number has since decreased to 60 percent with these new changes. Nevertheless, nurses have and will always play vital roles in health care as key liaisons among patients, their families, and other health care professionals.

“We’re going to see a lot more nurses working outside of those traditional places and those traditional roles—a lot of nurses in the future [will take] more of a leadership role in delivering care,” Clarke said. “We’re really trying to get our students ready for a future that will allow them to make use of the skills we’re giving them.”

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor

February 28, 2016