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Renilda Hilkemeyer - Interview 1

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Descriptive Summary

Collection: Making Cancer History Voices Oral History Collection
Interviewee: Hilkemeyer, Renilda
Interviewer: Marchiafava, Louis
Title: Renilda Hilkemeyer Oral History Interview 1
Dates: May 23, 2000
Abstract: The interview with Ms. Renilda Hilkemeyer begins with her early education and career. She explains how her career led to working in the field of oncology nursing. In this section of the interview, she highlights the development of training nurses, the stigmatism around cancer, and the value of hands-on experience. Ms. Hilkemeyer explains how she came to M. D. Anderson and the challenges she faced in developing the department of nursing, including staffing, interdepartmental collaboration, and institutional bureaucracy. The interview highlights the social issues of the time especially racial segregation and women in the work place. Ms. Hilkemeyer discusses the creation of a rehabilitation center at M. D. Anderson. She talks about her education programs to improve the care of patients. These broke role barriers and increased nursing qualifications. Ms. Hilkemeyer draws attention to her ground breaking education program for nurses in intravenous and chemotherapy procedures. This section also highlights her involvement in creating master and doctoral programs in nursing. Ms. Hilkemeyer discusses her awards and continued role in institutional committees since retirement. She concludes the interview in discussing the motivations and challenges in creating a child care center in 1963 and the honor of having it named after her in 1981.
Collection Id.: Hilkemeyer_Renilda_20000523
Original Format: Audiocassette
Format: 1 streaming video file and 1 interview transcript
Interview Length: 1 hour, 33 minutes
Language: Materials are in English
Repository: Historical Resources Center, Research Medical Library, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

Biographical Note

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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Index Terms

Subjects (Persons):

Hilkemeyer, Renilda

Clark, Randolph Lee, 1906-

Subjects (Organizations): University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center -- history

Child Day Care Centers
Nursing Staff, Hospital -- organization and administration
Hospitals, Special
Oncologic Nursing
Schools, Nursing
Education, Nursing
Hospital Departments
Hospitals, Special
Renilda Hilkemeyer Child Care Center (Houston, TX)
Houston (TX)
Oral History

Administrative Information

Provenance: Oral History Interview conducted with Renilda Hilkemeyer by Louis Marchiafava on May 23, 2000.
Preferred Citation: Renilda Hilkemeyer Oral History Interview 1, May 23, 2000, Research Medical Library, The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.
Processing Information: Oral history was edited by Mikha Mitchell, HRC Intern, Winter 2010

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