Nursing Leadership

Nursing Leadership 13(2) May 2000 : 20-21.doi:10.12927/cjnl.2000.16316

Profile of a Leader: Rae Chittick: A Thoughtful Leader

L. Kirkwood


Throughout her career, Rae Chittick maintained her commitment to improving the standards of professional nursing through education - provincially, nationally, and internationally. She believed that nurses needed university education for two reasons. Nurses at the university level could combine humanities and science to better understand holistic care in a time of rapid social change. Also nurses needed university education if they were to engage in policy decision-making with other health care professionals. It is a measure of the esteem in which she was held that, in the ten years she was at McGill University, she was able to completely revamp the two year post basic programme, gain approval from the university for both a generic baccalaureate and a Master's degree programme in nursing, and acted as the catalyst for the development of the first Canadian model of nursing.

Initially Rae Chittick trained as a teacher, but following the influenza epidemic on the prairies in 1916-1919, she decided to take up nursing, graduating from Johns Hopkins Hospital School of Nursing in 1922. After two years of practice in public health nursing, she returned to the Normal School to teach health education to teachers, first in Regina and then in Calgary. Throughout her career she augmented her education first with a baccalaureate degree and then, with two Masters - one from Stanford, the other from Harvard. In 1940, she was elected President of the Alberta Association of Registered Nurses (AARN) and later in 1946-48 President of the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA).

Her first excursion into improving the educational status of nurses met with considerable resistance. She strongly believed that nursing education should be independent of hospital service. While President of AARN, she attracted the interest of the Kellogg Foundation in funding a centralized, independent school to which hospital nursing programmes could send students for instruction in basic sciences and principles of nursing. The stipulation by the Kellogg Foundation that the school must be managed by the university was too radical for the physician on the committee who did not see the value of university education for nurses. Although others on the committee were initially supportive, without physician approval the idea did not go forward and the Kellogg Foundation withdrew their offer (R. Chittick, personal communication, August 1983).

Following the Second World War, much nursing energy focused on nursing education. As President of CNA (1946-1948), Miss Chittick again urged the development of independent nursing schools such as the two year experimental project funded by the Canadian Red Cross Society at the Metropolitan Hospital in Windsor, Ontario. She believed that reforms in nursing education must take place for nurses to meet the public's demand for better health care.

Miss Chittick had built a sound career in health education at the University of Alberta when, in 1953 at the age of 55, she was drawn into the mainstream of nursing as director of the McGill University School for Graduate Nurses. Her goal at McGill was to develop baccalaureate nursing programmes with a broad academic base that would stimulate intellectual curiosity and enhancethe development of the cultivated mind (Annual Report, School of Nursing, 1956-57). She viewed nursing's social function, A [as] an art practised in a scientific setting (Chittick, 1957, p. 32) and believed that at that time (1950's) nursing had embraced science at the expense of the healing arts.

According to Miss Chittick, a broad general education was essential in a time of rapid social and health care change, an education well beyond the scope of hospital training schools. Nurses needed the knowledge provided through the arts to help them become critical thinkers. These beliefs form the basis for the McGill Model of Nursing, and approach to nursing that directed the curricular efforts at McGill for the next 30 years. She believed that exposure to the world of the university would help post baccalaureate nurses overcome the rigid discipline and narrow physical and intellectual confines of hospital training programmes. In her view, nurses who had a broad education could see meaning in behaviour and conversations, which allowed them more creativity in performing the nursing role. She was convinced that university prepared nurses were capable of providing superior bedside care, were self-directed and preceptive in meeting patient needs. Master's level education, on the other hand, should be more narrowly focused on clinical specialization and research so that nurses could demonstrate a unique knowledge base within the university

Miss Chittick's views on the education of nurses had attracted the notice of a wide range of people and agencies over the years. On retirement from McGill in 1963, she accepted a World Health Organization invitation to help establish university nursing education programmes in Ghana and in the West Indies. In 1969, she retired to Vancouver, where she renewed her interest in watercolour painting and accepted the role of wise counsellor to the next generation of nursing leaders.

About the Author(s)

Lynn Kirkwood, RN, PhD is an associate professor at the School of Nursing, Queen's University. She is a founding member of the Canadian Association for the History of Nursing (CAHN/ACHN).


Chittick, R. (1956-57). School of Nursing Annual Report (Record Group 2, C603). McGill University Archives. Montreal, P.Q.

Chittick, R. (1957). Forty years of growing. Canadian Nurse, 53, 32.


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