1937 Alum Brings History to Life For School of Nursing Students

March 15, 2012

When Lillian Buskus Stone, R.N., of Williamson, N.Y., was a nursing student in the 1930s, her training covered how to cook meals, sterilize equipment, clean and sharpen needles, bathe patients, and care for the deceased. Leprosy, gangrene, tuberculosis, polio, and pneumonia were rampant, and no medications existed to counteract deadly bacteria. Once hired, nurses like Buskus Stone -- all women -- earned $60 a month plus room and board, and worked not only in hospitals, but across the community, providing in-home care to new mothers and babies, the sick and the infirm.

Buskus Stone, who turns 96 on March 18, recently shared her memories of nursing school and her 50-year career with men and women at the University of Rochester School of Nursing who are preparing to become registered nurses of the next generation. The students are all enrolled in the School of Nursing’s accelerated program for non-nurses (APNN), a rigorous 12-month program that prepares adults who already have bachelor’s degrees in other fields for RN-licensure. The program attracts students of varied backgrounds and experiences from across the country. 

Buskus Stone spoke with eloquence and humor about the evolutions in health care she witnessed first-hand, including the emergence of antibiotics, the growth of diagnostic and treatment technology, and a greater understanding of disease transmission and medication side-effects. 

But she also spoke poignantly to students about the aspects of health care that should never change.

"Remember that people are not numbers," she told the students. "They have a life before they come to the hospital, and unless you get (connected) to their life and know something about it, their cure will take a lot longer."

Born in Waterbury, Ct., Lillian Buskus Stone moved to Rochester with her family when she was 16 and graduated from Benjamin Franklin High School in 1934. Her mother wanted her to become a secretary. Determined to be a nurse, she enrolled in what was then a three-year nursing diploma school, affiliated with Strong Memorial Hospital, which is today the University of Rochester School of Nursing. She worked part-time as a seamstress (making men’s ties) to pay for her education. Out of her class of 60 nursing students, 27 graduated in 1937. Upon graduating, she worked 50 years as a nurse at Strong and for other organizations throughout the Rochester community.

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