Dr. Barbara Talento, RN-BSN 1976
I am probably the oldest living graduate of the School of Nursing. I have always wanted to be a nurse from earliest childhood. As a kid I would make a nurses cap out of newspaper and pretend to take care of my patients…a dog named Peppy and several dolls and they all survived. It wasn’t until much later that I found out what a problem those caps would be when giving care at the bedside. Mine was always falling forward or being caught in the curtains surrounding the patient. As a kid I loved science. When I was ten I received a microscope for Chanukah. I stuck my finger a hundred times so I could see blood cells in my ‘scope. A couple of years later, I got a chemistry set and never blew our house up. When I graduated high school in New York City and hoped to go to a diploma program in a hospital, fate stepped in and foiled my plan. My extended family disapproved since nice middle class girls did not touch naked bodies. The options were to be a teacher, bookkeeper or wife, that was the right thing to do. So I became an awful bookkeeper. Soon after that we moved to California. Again I wanted to be a nurse and junior colleges were offering A.A. programs to that end. I was accepted into Compton Junior College but before I could finish my 1st year, my Dad had a stroke and I needed to get a job.
Fast forward 25 years, when my youngest child went to first grade I applied and was accepted into the nursing program at Fullerton Jr. College. I was rather an elderly student but it was great. I loved every minute of it. I took the exam, passed it and received my license to practice I was a R.N. and was so happy. I decided to work at what is now UCI Medical Center. I chose to work there because of the diversity of patients, some poor and without insurance and some fairly wealthy but needing the expertise of the attending physicians. Since it was a teaching hospital, we saw a broad spectrum of diseases. I saw things my biology teacher said we would never see. This was bizarre, but there is a disease called schistosomiasis. The only place you can get it is from a snail that lived in the Nile River in Egypt. I had a patient with that disease. All new hires worked the night shift and I was really miserable. As soon as possible I applied for the day shift and found my home on the medical floor. I did have the opportunity to work in rehab, the burn unit, obstetrics, and surgery. I loved O.B but there was a waiting list to work there. On the med floor, every patient was different and challenging. On any single day I could have a patient with diabetes, a staph infection, a drug overdose, a suicide attempt or cirrhosis. It was challenging and I loved it. In July , the hospital got a new collection of interns and we nurses loved it, They hadn’t gotten the “God Complex” yet and looked for the RN to tell them about the patient. We even got to teach them how to give a shot or how to draw blood! In September we received a new collection of nursing students who wanted to learn everything we could teach them. I loved teaching and my job. I am not saying life was easy but it was fulfilling. Working 40 hours a week and 3 week-ends a month put a strain on home life. Dinner was often soup and sandwiches. Housekeeping was last on my list of chores; kids were first, then friends and family. One day I came home to find a note written in the dust of a table. It read, Dust me.” I wrote back, “It is not my dust.” My husband and I sat down to discuss a division of chores picking the one that were most important to each of us. He got the dusting, I got the laundry.
Moving ahead a couple of years and fate intervened again. My husband suffered a fatal heart attack. It was devastating. I was scared. While I grieved his loss, I had three kids to raise by myself and I was overwhelmed. While my job offered a welcome distraction it was also a problem. I could not find any home aides willing to work my hours. No one wanted to work 3 week-ends a month. I needed to look for an alternative. Fortunately, I heard of CSUF’s brand new wonderful way of taking AA nurses and making them into BSN nurses in 2 years, which was very innovative at that time. I was able to work for a registry and choose my hours with them, so I could earn money, working hours compatible with raising my children and still go to school. What made the program so appealing was that I could get the degree in 2 years (which offered different employment options ), I didn’t have to repeat what I already knew because the program was designed to build on the skills we already had. Wilma Traber designed the program after one in Northern California. The first class accepted 40 students. I was number 41 and worried about getting in. However one lady dropped out so I made it in. It was difficult. To start with you had to take bio-chemistry and anatomy and physiology and other hard core classes. Some never made it through the first year. Actually of that class only 12 of us graduated in 2 years. We called ourselves, “The Dirty Dozen” a popular movie at that time.
All this time I was also working through the registry as I could chose my time to work and the place I wanted to work at. For the most part I worked on a psych unit at a place called Canyon Hospital which later was taken over by Kaiser Permanente. Luckily, Fullerton liked me and my psych skills as I understood group process so they hired me to work part time as a seminar leader. They warned me that if I wanted to keep the job, I needed a master’s degree fast. I went to Cal State L.A and was lucky that the state needed psych nurses and offered scholarships to those who qualified. I was awarded one until I graduated with a master’s degree. Then, CSUF hired me full time but told me I had 7 years to get a PhD in order to become a tenured professor. I enrolled at Claremont University for several reasons. I decided to get my doctorate in Education, not nursing, for several reasons. One was that Claremont’s classes were in the late afternoon so I could work and classes were only a couple of days a week so I could keep up with my children’s schedules. Secondly, I was interested in teaching and research in that area appealed to me. At Claremont I decided to major in Life Span Development which was the study of the necessary tasks that people have to accomplish to move from one stage of development to the next, successfully. It was very applicable to nursing and certainly to my teaching at CSUF as we covered the life span in our classes. When I graduated Claremont, my kids were old enough to buy me car license plates which say Dr. Mom E. You can still see them on my car.
I worked here for 20 years and loved almost every moment of that time. Seeing my students struggle to get through the spectrum that I had , school, work and family was sometimes difficult and I would often tell them that they did not have to get an A in every part of their lives. They could choose which was the most important, usually family, and then be content to do their best with the time and energy they had left. It gave me great pride to go to graduation and see them getting their diploma and then meeting with their families. Being part of the faculty meant that you were expected to serve on campus committees. I was selected to serve on a new group called CLE Continuing Learning Experience because my specialty was life span development. Their brilliant chair felt that older people loved to learn and where better than on a college campus. Leo Shapiro sold his idea to the continuing education department as CLE was to be self supporting. He raised millions of dollars to build RGC and CSUF provided the land to build it on. Once built, CSUF owned the building. The rights to the use of the rooms and auditorium were to be negotiated. It was the best committee I ever served on with dedicated people working extremely hard to accomplish the task. CLE started out with less than 100 people and is now called OLLI with 1700 people selecting from 120 courses a semester. Since I had access to these wonderful people I decided to do my dissertation research based on the life satisfaction of older learners as compared to the same age folks enrolled at Senior Centers. Turns out that the retired learners across age and education levels were happier involved in learning at CLE than doing other activities at senior centers. During my teaching years I was encouraged to become involved in the community. I served as the local representative to the California Nurses Association, and the Health Care Council of Orange County. I also served on the committee called California Health Decisions that helped developed the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. It took many months working with physicians, nurses, lawyers and citizens before we came up with the document that was approved in Sacramento.
Finally, a bit of history about the nursing program which started in the 1970’s. Many faculty on campus did not want to approve it because it was expensive, the student –faculty ratio was 1-10 and some did not see nursing as a “profession.” We did get approved and gained the respect of many but we still had deniers. Over the years we proved ourselves with BRN approval and accreditation by educational standards boards. Then came the late 1990’s and the state budget bottomed out. Funds to the state universities were severely cut. Faculty were urged to take early retirement so the schools could save of tenured salaries and hire part timers at half the costs. Since I was old enough to collect a pension I agreed to retire. Immediately after I retired, the associate dean of the school decided that the nursing department had to go. The nursing faculty called me to a meeting and said, “Since you are retired they can’t fire you so what can you do to help save the program?” Because I had been so involved with health leaders throughout the county I had the opportunity to get them involved. We developed a letter outlining the work our graduates were doing throughout the county and passed it out to legislators, directors of nursing, hospital administrators and public health workers. We said look what our nurses contribute to your facilities. You really don’t want to lose this program. Please write to the president of CSUF telling him how important this program is to your facility. Fortunately, they all agreed and did send letters to the President. One day at OLLI where President Gordon was giving out an award, he came up to me. He looked at me with really angry eyes and said, “Do you know what my desk looks like?” I said,”No, what?” He said, “I have letters from all over the state covering my desk talking about the nursing program.” So I said, “Good, I hope you listen to them.” He did and ultimately the assistant dean lost her job. I shed no tears. From that shaky start, look at what we have accomplished from entry level to doctorate in nursing. From 12 graduates to thousands practicing and making a difference in so many lives everywhere. I hope you see that Dreams do come true with hard work and caring people.