Ethel Johns, one of the founding directors of the University of British Columbia's nursing program, has been declared a Person of National Historic Significance. Close to fifty years after her passing, Johns is finally being given the recognition she deserves. Her award will put her amongst a distinguished group of Canadians that have been honoured with the title. Past recipients include Terry Fox, Marshall McLuhan, Emily Murphy and Emily Carr.
Johns’ push for a nursing program at UBC occurred eleven years after the higher education facility was opened. Her request for increased education for nurses at the University came at the perfect time. Canada had recently seen the value of nurses during their military engagements in Europe and the global pandemic of the Spanish Flu had brought the vulnerability of the human body major attention. Nurses were needed everywhere and schools were needed to train them.
At the time, there were only four faculties at UBC: Arts, Science, Agriculture and Applied Science. Nursing was placed within the Applied Science faculty and Johns was named official coordinator in 1919. During this period, she was also the Director of Nursing Services and Education at Vancouver General Hospital.
Before the program was established, nurses learned on the job or at limited training centres in hospitals. In fact, Johns flagship program was the first degree-granting program for nurses in the British Empire; quite an accomplishment for a nurse who learned her trade at a hospital in Winnipeg.
Now, close to a hundred years later, UBC is one of the many educational establishments offering degrees in nursing across Canada. Nursingstudents leave with an education that has its roots in the stubborn wishes of a feisty no-nonsense professional who worked tirelessly to promote the need for educated nurses.
Johns would go on to develop nursing programs across Europe and at the Ivy League American University, Cornell.