Samuel Merritt College - Celebrating 100 years of history

Appeared in: Oakland Business Review

By: Elizabeth Valente

What started out as a diploma school of nursing developed into a college recognized as a premier health sciences institution with state-of-the-art technology and in-demand academic programs.

Samuel Merritt College (SMC), founded in 1909, was a vision of physician Dr. Samuel Merritt (1822-1890), who coincidently happened to be the 13th mayor of Oakland. He left plans for a hospital and a nursing school to be built in his name after his death. And ever since, SMC has been pioneering new programs and developing leaders in health care for the past 100 years.

The Oakland institution, located in the city's ‘Pill Hill' district, has become a leader in educating nurses, physical and occupational therapists, podiatrists and physician assistants in California and beyond. "In a time of shortage of health care professionals, we're meeting a huge need for the region, and the nation as well," says Sue Sylvester, executive director of development and Alumni Affairs.

In the 1980s, SMC began the first in a series of partnerships starting with Saint Mary's College of California by offering an undergraduate Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Recognizing the need for professional training in other disciplines, in the 1990s the College began adding more graduate programs. SMC now offers baccalaureate degrees in nursing, and graduate degrees in occupational therapy, and physician assistant, as well as doctoral programs in physical therapy and podiatric medicine.

For the past several years graduates have been exceeding national pass rates on licensure and certification exams. It's no wonder that students from SMC are heavily recruited, showcasing one of the highest rates of employment within one year of graduation.

"When these students enter the workforce, they're rated well above average by their employers, and they themselves report feeling well-prepared for their careers," says John Garten-Shuman, vice president of enrollment and student services.

That's certainly due in part to the College's innovations in teaching. According to historical ledgers dating back to the early 1900s, students would practice patient skills on each other. Fast forward 100 years and now SMC students are interacting in the College's Health Sciences Simulation Center. There, students learn medical procedures, teamwork, task management, situation awareness and decision-making by practicing on computerized mannequins. The learning sessions are videotaped for later discussion with instructors and fellow classmates.

"With patient safety at the core of what drives the use of human patient simulation, the graduates of our health professional education programs can bring their lessons learned in our state-ofthe- art Health Sciences Simulator Center fully into their clinical practice, and hopefully make a difference in today's health care systems," said Celeste Villanueva, Samuel Merritt College director of the Health Sciences Simulation Center.

One thing that has not changed over the years is the College's adherence to its core values. "Our values are respect for one another, diversity and inclusion. I SPECIAL SECTION EDUCAT ION Samuel Merritt College – Celebrating 100 years of history – by Elizabeth Valente think they help us be more compassionate with others and in the field of health care, that is an important component in delivering quality medical care," says Garten- Shuman.

Those values are reflected in students' volunteer work. For instance, in April 2008, a small group of podiatry students went to New Orleans to work with lowincome residents living in the Lower Ninth Ward district. And in August, a dozen family nurse practitioner students traveled to Southeast Asia to provide clinical aid to local villagers.

The College has geographically expanded thanks to grant funding from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. The Moore Foundation, along with additional contributions, helped establish remote campuses in Sacramento, San Francisco and San Mateo.

Garten-Shuman promises, "When you look at our history, you see how we have responded to market and health care needs. We are growing and will continue to meet the needs of the aging population and the community."

The College's centennial celebrations kick off at the Founders Day event scheduled on Jan. 26, 2009.

For more information about Samuel Merritt College and its centennial events, visit


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