Legacy of UBC Nursing founder Ethel Johns recognized by the Canadian government

Last week UBC celebrated the achievements of Ethel Johns, who founded UBC’s Nursing Program and was recently named a Person of National Historical Significance by the Canadian government.

Johns, who was born in England to Welsh parents, first came to Canada in 1888 with her father who worked as a missionary in Ontario. She graduated from the Winnipeg General Hospital Training School in 1902 and practiced as a nurse in Winnipeg while creating the Manitoba Association of Graduate Nurses. After studying education at Columbia University and working as a superintendent of Winnipeg's Children's Hospital, Ethels moved to B.C. in 1919 and took on a dual role as director of Vancouver General Hospital and the new UBC School of Nursing department.

Suzanne H. Campbell, director and associate professor at the UBC School of Nursing, described Johns as a “tenacious, intelligent and capable nurse that did not give up.”

Johns worked at the UBC hospital among male physicians and administrators and demanded that they start a baccalaureate-level nursing program, Canada’s first.

According to Campbell, Johns put the school of nursing in an educational model and recognized that there was a foundational level of science, math, humanities and research that all integrated into a nurse's education and needed to be taught at the university level.

“The question is not what she did for the UBC School of Nursing but what she established for the province,” said Campbell.

In large part due to Johns’ advocacy, the department of nursing within the Faculty of Applied Science enrolled its first class of students in 1919 and has continued to train nurses ever since.

One of the focal points in her career is the work Johns did on promoting equality between races in nursing.

In 1925, the Rockefeller Foundation offered Johns a job in New York to help develop more nursing schools.

One of her first assignments was to help study the status of African American women in nursing in the US. Johns advocated for increased educational and work opportunities for African-American nurses, but the foundation did not follow up on her recommendations until the 1980s.

After submitting her report for the study, Johns was sent to Eastern Europe to aid in the development of nursing schools. When she returned in 1933, she continued regulating the nursing profession through writing as the editor for The Canadian Nurse up until 1944.

Driven by her passion for equality and knowledge, Johns continued fighting for more educational opportunities for nurses throughout her life. Campbell said that the commemoration ceremony at Cecil Green Park House was an inspiring moment for both her and many others to continue advocating for more nursing opportunities in B.C.

“[Johns] fought the fight for nurses and made UBC proud,” said Campbell.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article said the department of nursing was in the Faculty of Science. In fact, it is in the Faculty of Applied Science. The Ubyssey regrets the error.