Inspiring Those Who Care for Others

Bea Kalisch

Through a generous bequest to UNMC, Bea Kalisch is encouraging more people to impact lives as only nurses can.

At age 9, Beatrice “Bea” Kalisch stepped onto a bus in Omaha and saw her future: a nurse dressed in a trim, starched-white uniform, her hair tucked neatly behind a white cap.

“I just thought she looked wonderful,” Bea recalled. It was 1952, and the nation loved a good uniform.

A few years later, Bea, a Burnett Society member, began volunteering at the Red Cross and was assigned to a polio ward. Polio was ravaging communities. In hospitals, children were brought in for care, their tiny limbs immobile with paralysis. Some had to be fed through straws by nurses.

The experience was impactful. “The patients were so helpless,” Bea recalled. “To feed them, I felt so useful.”

Bea became convinced nursing was her future. Her path led her first to the University of Nebraska Medical Center and then all around the world conducting research and presenting her findings. Now through a generous bequest to UNMC, Bea is encouraging more people to impact lives as only nurses can.

Bea’s education at UNMC was foundational in her career. Having a bachelor’s degree helped land her first job. But it also taught her how impactful nursing can be on patients’ well-being. That lesson came through the faculty, particularly one pediatrics teacher, Esther Sock Dworak.

Bea and several of her classmates were inspired to go into pediatrics and later established a scholarship in the teacher’s name.

Her education also empowered Bea to recognize when nursing was being done wrong. At one position, she said she practiced under a nurse who embodied the opposite of compassionate care. She recalled being reprimanded for playing with a sick child.

“She came in and grabbed all his toys and said nurses are not for play,” Bea said. “I cried all the way home. My whole focus was to help people.”

Although she was discouraged, Bea kept going. “I was lucky I had that nurse who showed me another way at Nebraska,” she said. “And I was lucky that I got directed to Nebraska. We had some really good faculty members that made a huge difference with me.”

After UNMC, Kalisch earned her master’s and doctorate degrees at the University of Maryland. She has had a distinguished career, authoring nine books and more than 140 journal articles and presenting her research around the world, including on the image of the nurse.

“The images in the media … didn’t show nurses making a difference in patient outcomes,” she said. “They didn’t show nurses as intelligent decision makers.”

Kalisch said that lack of recognition exacerbates the nation’s nursing shortage. To help counter that, she established a scholarship at UNMC, which she hopes will encourage more talented students to pursue nursing and conduct research.

She describes her gift simply: “What better place to put your money?”