Nursing Degrees Her Passport to the World

August 16, 2023

Like many who find their true love at college, Jane Coury found hers at Rutgers: public health nursing, with a focus on maternal and child health.

Her Rutgers nursing degrees became her passport to a life of adventures in faraway places: Partnering with the Minister of Health in Egypt to reduce the nation’s high smoking rate and reduce maternal childbirth deaths. Researching Navajo medical records to qualify them for settlements in a class-action suit against uranium mining. Pioneering a program that provided public health services in a high-crime area at a facility converted from a brewery.

“I didn’t even know I wanted to be a nurse,” says Coury, who grew up in Lansford, Pennsylvania, and later earned her bachelor’s in 1973 and her master’s of nursing in 1978 from the Rutgers School of Nursing in Newark. “After high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. My father got me a job in a clothing factory when I was quite young, which all the ladies did in my hometown, and I was so terrible, the guy threw me out after the first day. I had also failed as a secretary.”

College was unaffordable for her, so in the mid-1950s she enrolled in a nursing diploma program in nearby Reading, which set her on a path around the world. After completing the program, she shook the dust off her heels from the Pennsylvania coal mines and set off to New York with three fellow nursing students, settling in at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, part of Columbia University, where she was assigned to a medical surgical floor and evening shift. “We went to New York City—the four of us—can you imagine?” she says. “Four little kids. I was still wearing dresses with puff sleeves, for God’s sake.”