Making Cancer History Voices Collection
Renilda Hilkemeyer Oral History Interview 1, May 23, 2000
Renilda Hilkemeyer is one of the pioneers of oncology nursing. She was born in the small town of Martinsburg, Missouri, in 1915. Due to the size of the local school, Hilkemeyer finished her high school education in another town and worked to pay her living expenses. She received a diploma from St. Louis’ St. Mary’s Hospital School of nursing in 1936. Her nursing career began as a private duty nurse, but she also worked as an operating room nurse and a public health nurse. Unable to work in the early 1940s because of tuberculosis, she studied at the George Peabody College for teachers in Nashville, Tennessee. She believed in the philosophy that one learns best through hands-on experience. Her background in community outreach made her an effective director of the Missouri State Nurses Association and a member of the Department of Health. Ms. Hilkemeyer developed a program to teach nurses about cancer. She worked for the American Cancer Society and was on the Nursing Advisory Committee. Her expertise in cancer and treatment of patients brought her to the attention of Dr. R. Lee Clark. He saw her as the ideal candidate for the new director of nursing position at M. D. Anderson; she joined the institution in 1955. Her strong work ethic, hard stance developing on policies and procedures, and pioneering spirit pushed the traditional boundaries of women and nursing.
Ms. Hilkemeyer’s innovations set M. D. Anderson apart from other medical institutions at the time. She established many procedures and practice guidelines that encouraged greater collaboration among doctors, nurses, and other medical staff, which increased the quality of patient treatment at the hospital. For example, Ms. Hilkemeyer created teaching guidelines on how to perform intravenous therapy and chemotherapy. Originally, only physicians performed these procedures. Her other accomplishments include: building triangular unites for nurses in order to monitor patients; establishing a rehabilitation unit; and building a child care center for the Houston Medical Center.
Ms. Hilkemeyer was a member and chair of many nursing and cancer committees. She was the first nurse to receive the American Cancer Society’s Distinguished Service Award. In 1988, she received an honorary Doctorate of Public Service from St. Louis University. She helped establish master and doctoral programs in nursing. Ms. Hilkemeyer’s procedures and practices are still an integral part of contemporary nursing education.
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Oral History Interview conducted with Renilda Hilkemeyer by Louis Marchiafava on May 23, 2000.
Renilda Hilkemeyer Oral History Interview 1, May 23, 2000, Research Medical Library, The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.
Oral history was edited by Mikha Mitchell, HRC Intern, Winter 2010