|Dr. Donna Thigpen’s first job was typical for a rural nursing graduate from East Carolina in the 1960s.
She worked as a public health nurse in Pitt County, recording birth certificates and checking on babies born at home. She traveled a lot of dirt roads by herself, but was not afraid.
“The uniform was my shield, and people knew I was there to help,” said Thigpen.
Her most recent full-time role — the one from which she retired five years ago — was as president of Bismarck State College. There, she successfully lobbied the North Dakota legislature to start associate degree nursing programs in the state’s community college system.
That meant changing a state law
|requiring nurses to have baccalaureate degrees.
In between, she taught nursing at the Medical College of Virginia (now Virginia Commonwealth University), started the associate degree nursing program at James Sprunt Community College in Kenansville and served as dean of student services at 14,000-student Trident Technical College in Charleston, S.C. She recently took a role as a consultant for Edgecombe Community College, helping its nursing program obtain accreditation.
Thigpen credits her training for that versatility. Nursing teaches you to work with people, to think critically and solve problems, she said.
“No other degree would have prepared me better to be a college president,” Thigpen said.
|Thigpen’s experiences mirror the myriad opportunities that have
opened to ECU nursing graduates in the five decades of the School’s life.
As a brand-new public health nurse she supervised granny midwives. She remembers in particular a premature three-pound baby in a pasteboard box, surrounded by flat whiskey bottles filled with hot water to keep her warm.
Decades later, as a college president she led an effort that increased the supply of nursing graduates in a rural state.
“In this country we need twice as many nurses as we have,” she said. “There’s going to be a lot of old folks and no one to take care of us.”
— Crystal Baity