Atlanta nurses share 50 years of friendship, experience

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"I think all of us wanted to succeed, and we had heart to be here," Moore says.

Frankie Smith, who had grown up in Rome, Georgia, had been inspired to become a nurse by her mother, a domestic worker.

"She was proud," Smith says.  "I talked to my mother every day, to give me encouragement."

It's been 50 years since Frankie Smith and Francine Moore first walked the halls of Grady Memorial Hospital, back in 1968.

"Although I grew up in Atlanta, it seemed like a large place," says Moore.  "It was so big!"

Both 18, they were new nursing students, arriving just after Grady, once divided down the middle, one side of the hospital for whites, the other for blacks, integrated in the mid 1960's.

That's when the two Grady Nursing Schools, also separated along racial lines, became one.

But Moore and Smith remember little friction between students.

Francine Moore, the oldest of 6 children, had just graduated from an all-black Atlanta high school.

"They had a scholarship for Grady Nursing School," Moore says.  "I got the 3-year scholarship. My parents were so proud."

Both women were the first in their families to go to college. Out of about 125 Grady nursing students, they says, less than 20 were African-American. The first time they put on their starched white nursing uniforms was powerful.

"I felt like I was on my way to being what I wanted to be, and I was a proud of it," says Frankie Smith.

The training was intense.

"It was, like, at Grady, if it was in the book you almost came across it," Moore remembers.  "Things that were rare, you would see them at Grady."

They first time they were put in charge of caring for a patient was a little daunting.

"It was scary, it was really scary," Moore laughs.  "I remember the first injection.  We practiced on oranges.  And, that first injection, I was shaking."

Growing up, Smith says she had been drawn to working with the poor.

"And, then to be able to take care of people, sick people, that was just awesome," she says.

Francine is now a Grady psychiatric nurse. Frankie, a nightshift administrator, spent her early years working in trauma surgery. There, she says, skin color was never an issue.

"It didn't matter if they were black or white," Smith says.  "They were hurt and they wanted to be helped."

Smith and Moore are grateful Grady made them the nurses they are today.

"I don't think that I would have gotten the experience, or the gratitude, any place else but Grady," Moore says.