Virginia George, BSN’47, MS’72, Champion of the Nurse Practitioner

Virginia_GeorgeVirginia Maxwell George, professor of nursing, emerita, and an early champion of nurse practitioners, died of natural causes July 26 in Nashville. She was 94.

George was founding director of Vanderbilt’s Family Nurse Practitioner program, one of the first in the Southeast. A 1947 VUSN graduate, she taught at Vanderbilt for 28 years, earning teaching awards and serving in many leadership roles.

George attended Samford University for two years in the early 1940s. When she expressed an interest in becoming a nurse, her family dentist suggested she apply to his alma mater, Vanderbilt.

It was about this time that she met her future husband, Ralph George, BA’47, MA’65, EdS’62, who had just returned home from Army Air Forces duty. They were married in November 1944, shortly before he was deployed to the Philippines. Upon his departure she traveled to Nashville to start classes at Vanderbilt School of Nursing, a week late. When she found the doors to the building were locked, she sat on the steps until someone let her in.

“We took exams all Saturday morning,” she recalled in 2006. Because she had arrived late, however, her eligibility was under question. “The faculty met on Sunday to see if I could stay.” School officials had a hard time denying her admittance as she was the only applicant to ace the entrance exam.

George graduated cum laude with a bachelor of science in nursing in 1947. In 1962 she pursued a master’s degree in clinical pediatrics and functional teaching at the University of Alabama School of Nursing. She earned a second graduate degree at George Peabody College in 1972. In addition, she completed a family nurse practitioner certificate at the University of Rochester, where she studied with Loretta Ford, pioneer of the nurse practitioner role.

George joined the VUSN faculty in 1964 as an instructor in maternal and child nursing. She became an assistant professor in 1970, the same year she was recognized with the school’s Shirley Titus Award for excellence in teaching. She was named an associate professor two years later.

In 1973, George was appointed director of Primex, Vanderbilt’s post-B.S.N. family nurse clinician certificate program for RNs. In 1975 she oversaw the transformation of Primex into the School of Nursing’s first graduate degree program for family nurse practitioners. She led the program for 15 years and won the school’s Sara K. Archer Award for graduate-level teaching in 1989.

After retiring in 2000, she took medical mission trips to Haiti, Honduras, Chile and Venezuela. In 2005 she established the Virginia M. George Nursing Scholarship, awarded annually to a VUSN nurse practitioner student. “Vanderbilt prepared me for a profession, and it gave me an opportunity to teach and have contact with students,” she said. “It makes me happy that I am able to help a little bit.”

George is survived by a daughter and sister.