Chapter 01: An Early Commitment to a Career in Nursing

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Chapter 01: An Early Commitment to a Career in Nursing

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Ms. Alt begins this chapter by sketching her upbringing in a very small town in Iowa where there was a strong sense of community that taught her “a lot about life.” She talks about the limited education when she was growing up, but appreciated her teachers who attempted to make opportunities for their students. She notes that she received a college scholarship from her church (Lutheran). Ms. Alt explains that her town “lived in the shadow of the Mayo Clinic,” and she was always impressed with its history, which inspired her from an early age to go into nursing. She also talks about her experience at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.

Identifier

Alt,J_01_20180529_S01

Publication Date

5-29-2018

Publisher

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The Interview Subjects Story - Educational Path; Personal Background; Character, Values, Beliefs, Talents; Personal Background; Inspirations to Practice Science/Medicine; Influences from People and Life Experiences; Faith

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Disciplines

History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Oncology | Oral History

Transcript

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

And our counter is moving, always a good sign. All right. Today is May 29, 2018, and we were just mentioning, oh my gosh, can’t believe it’s almost June. I am Tacey Ann Rosolowski and today I’m in Houston, Texas, and I am interviewing Joyce Alt for the Making Cancer History Voices Oral History Project, run by the Research Medical Library at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. Now, Ms. Alt came to MD Anderson in 1965, and you were hired as a Head Nurse, is that correct?J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

Yes.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

All right. In the Postoperative Care Unit at MD Anderson Hospital. And then in 1978, you were appointed to the Director of Nursing, and that’s really exciting and I’m delighted that we’re going to be talking to you about that. You retired from the institution and it was as Dr. LeMaistre [oral history interview] was transitioning over to Dr. Mendelsohn, [oral history interview] so in 1995, 1996, around that time.J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

Yeah.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

So, let’s see, I just want to note the time. It is about 1:16, and I want to thank you for making time for this. I appreciate the investment.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

So, let me start in the traditional place for an oral history interview, and let me ask you where you were born and when, and tell me a little bit about your family.J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

I’m sorry, I’m just a little hoarse.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

That’s all right.J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

I was born in Alta Vista, Iowa.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Alta Vista?J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

Mm-hmm.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Okay.J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

I was daughter of a schoolteacher and a merchant and had one sister, who is now living in Fort Worth. I grew up in a very, very small town, went to a very small school and I learned a lot about life there.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Did you?J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

Appreciating it.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Why do you say that? What was it that gave you that appreciation?J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

Well, people were thankful for rain, friends, neighbors, and went out of their way to help one another, and that was just something you grew up with.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

How small is small?J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

About three hundred.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Oh wow, very small, okay. So a very tight-knit community.J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

It was a farming community.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

A farming community, okay. Now what were your parents’ names?J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

Herman and Aletha, A-L-E-T-H-A, Alt.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

And your sister’s name?J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

Janice Blum, B-L-U-M.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

And is that J-A-N-I-C-E?J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

Yes.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Okay, all right. So, tell me a little bit about the educational experience in such a tiny town.J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

Well, it was—[30] of us were in the senior graduation class. (laughs)

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Oh my gosh.J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

It was a very religious, diverse, divided town.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Oh. How so, tell me about that.J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

Catholics and Lutherans. A sidearm of Methodist.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Okay. And your family’s denomination?J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

Lutheran.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Lutheran. Okay.J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

Grew up in the church and my mother played the organ. I wasn’t compelled to go to church but it was you know, the family always went to church together. The education was very limited. There was a parochial school that had most of the children, because it was a Catholic community. I felt I had a good education but it was limited, in the sciences, math. Goodness sakes, you had anything in physical activities, you know it just wasn’t….

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Right.J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

The teachers were sincere, they expected work to be done, and they offered us opportunities. I loved to write, and so they would enter us into state fair competitions and those kinds of things, if there was an opportunity out there.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Yeah, they advocated for their students. Now, you didn’t share your birthday.J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

Oh, I’m sorry, June 18, 1940.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Okay. I just wanted to make sure it wasn’t a choice, to have done that.J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

No, no.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Okay, so that gives a little context. Wow, so that’s kind of postwar years too. Now, you had mentioned the religious. Are you practicing, were you practicing in your faith? Was that an important thing in your life at the time?J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

Yes, but I wasn’t running around with a banner in my hand either. Then, the church gave me a very limited scholarship, so I could go to Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Right, okay.J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

I was scared to death, because I wanted to go into nursing and I didn’t have a curriculum to support that.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Now, when did you decide you wanted to go into nursing?J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

Oh, golly. We lived sort of in the shadow of the Mayo Clinic, so I was always impressed with all the history up there and the stories about how many good things they were doing. We sort of had a choice; either it was a schoolteacher or a nurse or a secretary. My mother and dad really hoped I would have been a schoolteacher but I said no, this is what I want to do. So I went to Luther College, and that was probably my salvation, because these people, they assigned you a counselor and they were there with you. It wasn’t this “call me if you need me kind of thing.” I told them, I don’t have this and so they tested me, “Oh, you’re going to do fine.” Well, you don’t drop into an advanced chemistry course when you haven’t had chemistry, so I went back and I said, “I can’t do this,” and I said, “I don’t know what they’re talking about.” So they rearranged my curriculum to get me into the first level of sciences and chemistry, and thank God, because I wouldn’t have made it, I’m sure, had I not had that kind of experience.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

How large a college was that?J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

Probably around nine hundred or a thousand.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

So pretty small, more personal.J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

But right now it’s on the news even and it’s…

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Why did you choose to go there?J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

Well, it was close to home and I knew I’d be homesick. The other choice would have been going to St. Olaf in Minnesota, but I did not feel that they were open to any kind of appreciation or intention to help me overcome what I didn’t have in high school.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

So you had good intuition about that at Luther College.J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

Oh yeah, yeah. They didn’t fault me, you know this is what you came to us with and this is where we’ve got to get you to, and so again, I’m very thankful for that education.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

So what did you feel… I mean, aside from this very important issue of supporting you and helping you make up for those lacks in your academic record, how did you feel you grew during that time in college?J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

Well, coming from a very small community, it was almost a culture shock to live in a dorm, all these folks, and so I grew to interface with large groups and even small group. When I grew up, I had one friend.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Oh, wow.J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

So it was just a real culturalization of me, to go there.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Now was it co-ed or a women’s college?J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

Yes.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Co-ed, okay. I had actually never heard of the school before, so.J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

A good athletics program. Music was outstanding, a thing I’ll never forget. Olaf College was in Minnesota but near, and so Olaf and Luther—(becomes choked up)—now I’m crying—sang the Messiah together, it was phenomenal.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

It’s an amazing piece of music. So music is important to you.J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

Oh, yes.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Yeah, yeah. Where did that, when did that start?J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

Oh, my mother sang at funerals and weddings. She had an organ, we had an organ, I’ve got an organ.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Oh wow, so you’re a musician as well.J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

Not very good but I have the organ there, so I can fool with it.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Did you sing as well, in choirs?J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

No. My sister did though.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Okay. So a musical family.J

Joyce Alt, RN, MS:

Yeah.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D:

Nice. Yeah, it’s very moving, so I understand, that hymn. Nice.

Chapter 01: An Early Commitment to a Career in Nursing

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