The Herald-Times

Nursing changed a lot during Kay Leach's 40 years at Ivy Tech

By Mike Leonard

331-4368 | mleonard@heraldt.com

January 2, 2011


To understand how much the field of nursing has changed over the past few generations, Celinda “Kay” Leach recalls how her aunt was nearly kicked out of nursing school after being caught taking a patient’s blood pressure.

“Nurses wore long black stockings back then, and they didn’t do things like take blood pressure,” Leach said last week.

It’s a laughable understatement to say that times have changed.

Leach took the opportunity to reminisce as she packed up her possessions and filed away documents for others at her Ivy Tech office this week. She is retiring from her position as dean of the School of Health Sciences after 40 years of service to Ivy Tech.

Some 2,270 nurses have graduated under Leach’s guidance, and Ivy Tech Bloomington has achieved a remarkable 100 percent placement while she has led the nursing program.

“When I came to the Bloomington campus in 2001, this community made it clear that our nursing program, led by Kay, was the cornerstone of Ivy Tech’s reputation and success,” said Chancellor John Whikehart. “She is the personification of teaching excellence and dedication. Her commitment to her program, our campus, the college and the state of Indiana are unmatched, as demonstrated in her appointment as professor emeritus, the first in Ivy Tech’s 47-year history.”

Leach moved to Bloomington in the mid-1960s to take a position at Bloomington Hospital after earning her nursing degree at the University of Tennessee. She was approached by the nascent Ivy Tech program at the end of that decade and asked if she’d be interested in becoming a nursing instructor. She considered the request and accepted it and says to this day that she was eternally grateful that the school held the position open for her after a serious car accident put her in the hospital for three months.

Leach found that she had a talent and aptitude for teaching and became the nursing program chairwoman in 1987. The program flourished under her leadership and she was appointed by Govs. Evan Bayh and Frank O’Bannon to the Indiana State Board of Nursing and served as board chairman.

She’s always managed to teach at least one class a semester and sometimes more as she’s balanced her commitment to being a nurse with her responsibilities as an educator and administrator.

She chuckled when asked just how much the profession has changed over the past 40-plus years. “Nursing is an art and it’s a science,” she said thoughtfully. “Back in the ’60s when I started, the emphasis was much more on the art. Today it’s the science. Technology has just boomed,” she said.

“A nurse really has to be technologically advanced to work in today’s environment,” she said. “There’s so much to learn about the machines and so forth. Certainly the caring is still important. But the emphasis today is on technology. To keep up on it is almost a monumental task.”

The technology curve is tough on schools as well. Even the best medical and nursing schools have a hard time accessing the new equipment that even hospitals struggle to afford.

For all of its benefits, technology also strains the ability of nurses to provide the human element so crucial to their jobs. “The greatest challenge is especially with the students,” Leach said. “I think sometimes they’re so alarmed by all of the technology around them they’re not able to focus on the patient. That’s the true challenge in teaching, I think. We teach the students how to learn and they learn all of these little pieces and eventually, before they graduate, we help them put it all together,” she said.

Nursing education has changed in more ways than just dealing with technology, the longtime Ivy Tech professor said. “Back when I first started interviewing students, 100 percent of them would say the reason they wanted to be a nurse was to help people,” she said. “In today’s economy and in today’s world, it’s a little different now. People come into nursing for many reasons and those who stay in nursing do say it’s because they want to help people.

“I’ve always considered nursing a lifetime career, but some students see it as a stepping stone to do something else,” she said. “For me, I’ve always told my students, when you’re a nurse you are a nurse 24 hours a day for the rest of your life. You’re always on call. Your skills are always going to be vitally important.”

Leach said walking away from the intimate day-to-day involvement in nursing is going to be bittersweet but she acknowledged, “It’s time.” Like a lot of people, she’s looking forward to doing leisurely travel — not just squeezing in trips during semester breaks — and she and her husband, Ted, have planned a Caribbean cruise with several college friends in the spring. A vacation in Ireland is being planned for the end of the summer.

For many years the Leaches thought they’d return to their native Tennessee in retirement, but that plan has changed. “My daughter (Christy Scheid) and her husband live just 4-5 doors away from us down by the lake (Monroe) and we enjoy our grandson, Sawyer, so much we don’t want to leave. Certainly we’ve made many, many friends in the community as well.”

KAY LEACH

Copyright: HeraldTimesOnline.com 2011