1. Mason, Diana J. PhD, RN, FAAN, editor-in-chief

Article Content

Being a "Nelles Nurse" is a special honor at St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings, Montana. Nelles Nurses are recipients of educational scholarships and conference grants made possible by businessman, civic leader, and philanthropist Ralph Nelles over the past 20 years. His exceptional support and care for the nurses at St. Vincent Healthcare earned him this year's AJN-Beatrice Renfield Caring for the Caregiver Award.

Figure. Beatrice Ren... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. Beatrice Renfield

Nelles's commitment to nursing began in the 1980s, when his wife Flora was hospitalized with a terminal illness and he saw the difference that nursing care could make in the lives of patients and their families. In his wife's memory, he established the Nelles Traveling Nurse Fund, which pays the travel expenses of St. Vincent nurses who attend national educational conferences to enhance their knowledge and skills; they then share what they've learned with others at the institution.


When Nelles saw that the national nursing shortage was affecting Montana, he decided to do something about it. Nancy Kallem, MS, RN, St. Vincent Healthcare director of careQuest, says that Nelles's vision was "not to only have enough nurses, but to have the best and the brightest." So in 2002 he made a five-year commitment to fund the Nelles Nurse Scholarship Program, which provides funds for nursing students. Students can receive up to five semesters of support. For each funded semester, students commit one year of employment at St. Vincent. The program has been recognized by the American Hospital Association as a best practice model for recruiting and educating outstanding nursing staff. Financial assistance has been provided to 62 students in undergraduate and graduate nursing programs. The hospital credits the scholarship program with reducing its nurse turnover rate from 12% to less than 5%. In 2006 Nelles endowed the program with $1.5 million, supporting 30 students in basic or advanced educational programs each year.


His commitment to the development of nurses is also evident in the Nelles Nurse Symposium, an annual educational conference established in 2002, and an annual Nelles awards dinner honoring Nelles Nurses.


Pamela Nichols, BSN, CMSRN, had been employed as an LPN for seven years at St. Vincent and was a senior in a baccalaureate nursing program when Nelles established the scholarship. Now a two-time Nelles Nurse enrolled in graduate school, she says, "The Nelles Nurses scholarship has afforded me untold opportunities. I've developed exceptionally high standards in patient care and nursing leadership."


Ralph Nelles exemplifies the spirit of Beatrice Renfield, a philanthropist who devoted herself to "caring for the caregivers" after seeing the extraordinary impact of nursing care on her husband. Created in 2003, the annual award honors a recipient selected from nominations submitted to AJN from across the country. The selection committee is composed of AJN editorial staff members, RNs in New York City, and representatives from the Beatrice Renfield Foundation. On behalf of Beatrice Renfield, AJN salutes Ralph Nelles as the recipient of the 2007 AJN-Beatrice Renfield Caring for the Caregiver Award.


Diana J. Mason, PhD, RN, FAAN, editor-in-chief

Figure. Ralph Nelles... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. Ralph Nelles, center, is surrounded by family and 'Nelles Nurses.'