A Nursing Pioneer

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Still giving after 70 years


When you think of South Florida Nursing Pioneers, the name Sima Gabel needs to be at the top of your list. Over 60-years after she first walked through the doors at the old University of Miami School of Nursing, Sima Gebel is still committed to her profession and giving back to the School she loves. “If I can encourage one new nursing student to dedicate their career to caring for patients…I will have accomplished my final chapter.”
The Chapter’s in a book about Sima Gebel, would trace the history of the advent of modern day nursing. Gebel despite endless career obstacles and discrimination, moved forward in a brilliant career confronting everything from racial quotas limiting the number of Jewish nursing students in her program, to the pain of the Great Depression, she challenged Segregation and lead the charge for African American Nurses in South Florida’s (District 28) by welcoming “with open arms” the first black nurses in the Civil Rights Movement.
Gebel received her RN in 1945, and describes nursing at the 2000 bed Cook County Hospital in Chicago. She was there when due to the war, the nursing staff of 400 was cut to 80. She worked 7-days a week, around the clock for months at a time caring for the sick and dying. “I think back on those days and wonder how I was able to care for so many patients, and get bed pans to hundreds of patients daily… across the decades we never have enough nurses,” says Gebel.
In 1951, she started her nursing career in South Florida and became one of first graduates from the College of Arts and Sciences Bachelor of Science degree nursing program at the University of Miami. “I was so proud to start my career at the University of Miami Student Clinic,” says Gebel. Her first of many management positions developed one year later, she moved to Variety Children’s Hospital as Director of Nurse Education and started dealing with the polio epidemics eventually becoming skilled with the Iron Lung. According to Gebel, “I will never forget, we had rooms full of the Iron Lungs for victims of polio, especially children stricken with paralysis and unable to breathe on their own.” She remembers the development of the Salk vaccine and the lives that were saved.
Over the next 20-years Gebel stayed focused on three key areas, Nursing Education, Pediatrics and giving to the School. In 1975, Gebel joined the UM School of Medicine as an instructor in Pediatrics, while at the same time advancing her own education at the School of Nursing working to become a Family Nurse Practitioner. Three years later in 1978, she became an instructor in the Family Nurse Practitioner Program. Gebel says, “a lot has changed over the years, today, I am so proud to see so many advances in the field and nurses finally becoming leaders. These new nurses are so smart and talented, but I wish they didn’t have to do so much paperwork…the paperwork takes away from patient care. Nothing is more important than caring for patients and giving back.”
Caring and giving are the two words that depict Gebel’s entire career. At every step in her career she gave back to the University of Miami, from small donations as a young nurse, to annual donations, donations to build the new School of Nursing and Health Studies building, the establishment of a nursing student loan program in the name of her late brother Irving Gebel, and in 2006 she established the “Sima Gebel Doctoral Nursing Scholarship Fund” to support the advancement of nurses seeking advanced degrees as Doctor’s of Nursing Practice (DNP) and Doctors of Philosophy (PhD) to become the next generation of nurse leaders.
“Advanced Degrees for nurses are critical to continue the growth and progression of our profession. We need more nursing leaders and that takes education. I created the scholarship for doctoral students to encourage nurses to pursue the same dreams I had to provide outstanding patient care. You must always remember to give back to your School.” And she is continuing to give with an even larger commitment. Gebel has included the School of Nursing and Health Studies in her estate plans in the form of a gift to support the Doctoral Nursing Scholarship fund for years to come. “In the Jewish faith we call it Mitzvot, you need to always give to receive. After just celebrating my 88th birthday, I have received so much during my career, I have a lot more giving planned.”


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