The history of the University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing is inextricably linked to that of the former John Sealy Hospital Training School for Nurses. Organized and opened in 1890, the John Sealy Hospital Training School for Nurses was the first such school in the state and was located in the John Sealy Hospital in Galveston. Originally owned and operated by a board of lady managers it was subsumed by the Medical Department as a regular department of the University of Texas in 1896. Throughout its evolution the school changed names many times. When opened, the training period was of two years duration. In 1907 it was extended to a third year with a diploma awarded for a successful completion. In 1943 the Bachelor of Science in Nursing was first offered in Galveston with students earning the liberal arts credits necessary for the degree in colleges of their choice. However, the three years diploma program continued to operate concomitantly. In 1960 students on the Austin campus enrolled in the College of Arts and Sciences, listing nursing as a major. Nursing faculty from Galveston moved to Austin to teach two fundamentals of nursing courses on that campus but remained Medical Branch School of Nursing faculty. However, they were granted the same privileges as the University of Texas at Austin faculty. In 1967 the School of Nursing was reorganized as a separate and autonomous school named the University of Texas Nursing School [System-Wide] with two campuses: Galveston and Austin. The main campus of the school was moved to Austin. The same year the total graduate program was moved to Austin. The first undergraduate students to graduate in the Austin campus did so in May 1968. Between 1967 and 1969 other nursing schools within the university system were approved with various designations, on other campuses throughout the state. Houston was approved in 1967, San Antonio, El Paso, and Fort Worth in 1969, bringing to six the number of schools within the system. In 1972 the name was changed to the University of Texas System School of Nursing, the dean's title was changed to president, and the associate deans on each campus became deans.
Recognizing the need to educate nurses for the roles of researcher and university teaching, a course of study leading to the doctor of philosophy in nursing was started on the Austin campus in 1974. The Austin campus was the only one granting baccalaureate, masters, and doctoral degrees. The same year the Center for Nursing Research was opened in Austin to facilitate the research components of the graduate program, one of few such centers in the United States. On March 26, 1976, the board of regents voted to decentralize the System School of Nursing and put each nursing school under the administration of the campus on which it was located. Thus the one in Austin became the University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing. During the 1970s and 1980s an increasing percentage of students entering the school of nursing had degrees in other areas. Faculty recognized the very different learning needs of these students. An alternate entry track was developed whereby applicants with degrees other than nursing could be admitted as graduate students. The students completed all upper-division nursing courses as well as the master's level courses and graduated with a masters degree in nursing. The first such student entered in Spring 1989. In the early 1980s a summer-only doctoral option was made available, the first such option offered in the United States. The option provided students the opportunity to complete all course work during the summer sessions. The last group of students was admitted in the summer of 1990. The availability of the option had facilitated numerous nursing school faculty from all over the country to complete their doctorates without having to resign their positions.
In 1989, with a grant from the Commonwealth Fund, a course of study was designed leading to dual masters degrees in nursing and business administration. Representatives from the nursing school and business school collaborated to design a seventy-two semester hour dual degree program admitting the first group in fall 1990. Thus, beginning in the 1990–91 academic year, the University of Texas at Austin offered B.S.N., M.S.N., M.S.N./M.B.A. and the Ph.D. degrees. It was the only nursing school in the University of Texas System to do so. In 1993–94 the school had a total enrollment of 800 to 850 students taught by sixty-five faculty members. Enrollment in the fall of 2000 was 752, with a faculty of sixty-seven. Dolores Sands was dean of the school in 2001.