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Ellen Palmer at patience bed side

Once a Nurse, Always a Nurse: Part I

May is National Nurses Month, a special time to celebrate the warm and compassionate care of nurses not only nationwide, but within Touchmark communities. Please enjoy this story about Dr. Ellen Louise Larsen-Palmer, RN, PhD, who is moving to Touchmark at Emerald Lake when the community opens this fall.

Dr. Palmer is retired from the University of Texas at Arlington College of Nursing and Health Innovation after a long career of teaching critical care to undergraduates. She was a nurse educator for over 35 years and has been involved with international global nursing projects for over 30 years. Dr. Palmer maintains active involvement with global health care through board membership for International Child Care and Grace Children’s Hospital in Haiti. Dr. Palmer was in the inaugural class of inductees to the Virginia Henderson Fellows with Sigma Theta Tau International of the International Nursing Honor Society. She was also named one of the Leaders and Legends of Texas Nursing by the Texas Nurses Association in 2016. 

Humble roots lead to pursuing passion for helping others

On a clear day in August 1951, Ellen left the family farm and milk house in Denmark, Wisconsin, to go to nursing school in Milwaukee. The first in her family to earn a degree, a milk check from the family farm allowed her to enroll in Mt. Sinai Nursing School. Ellen graduated with her diploma in nursing three years later at the age of 21. One month after graduation, she passed the National Nursing Examination and became a Registered Nurse (RN).

On September 11 of that year, she married Jim Palmer who had just graduated from Garrett Theological Seminary at Northwestern University. Jim’s first appointment was as Senior Pastor to First Methodist Church in Butler, Wisconsin. Through their 57 years of marriage, they served multiple churches and nursing communities. 

Progressing professionally and personally

Through the years, with multiple moves assigned to Jim, Ellen added more nursing education. From a diploma RN, she added a BSN, MSN, and a PhD. Each of the moves expanded her knowledge of how to be part of nursing education and nursing care. Ellen has promoted nursing, and nursing education in the US, Bolivia, India, Dominican Republic, and Haiti. 

Jean Watson, PhD, is a nursing theorist who wrote about the science of human caring. She wrote that the compassion nurses have for their patients translates into better health outcomes for those in their care. Ellen is the epitome of the kind of nurse that Dr. Watson wrote about in her nursing theory. Her passion for nursing is exceeded only by her compassion for patients and the nurses that care for them.

Celebrating accomplishments annually 

Ellen celebrates Nurses Week annually in the US and adds the annual International Nursing Day (IND) on May 12 each year to celebrate Florence Nightingale’s birthday. The IND message for 2023 to 28 million nurses worldwide is, “Our Nurse, Our Future.” Ellen’s joy for Nurses Week is being part of IND. This year, Ellen and her nursing colleagues are celebrating Nurses Week by honoring the nurses at Grace Children’s Hospital in Lower Delmas, Port-au-Prince, Haiti. When asked how she does it all, Ellen says it is because so many help her.

A special focus on the needs of those in Haiti and India

Because Ellen was married to a pastor, she went along with him on several mission trips and assisted with nursing or medical duties. In 1976, a team of doctors asked her to come with them to Haiti. They were doing eye surgeries and procedures. When she came to know the Grace Children's Hospital and team there (at that time, they had only been up and running for about eight years), she was astounded at how the medical staff and nurses were providing care with so few supplies, particularly at that time for young tuberculosis patients. This ignited her passion for nursing care in Haiti.

After that, she dedicated her work to helping these nurses get the supplies and training they needed. She has coordinated annual donations of funds and medical supplies for this group. She has also gone to Haiti every year—or more—and provided training on CPR and a new "stop the bleed" program for severe injuries. She raised the funds to purchase these kits and led the training herself.

In the past 15 years, she became involved with two nursing schools in India. She provided critical support and training to help the school establish its nursing education program. She is considered a founder/board member and has also traveled there regularly to provide ongoing training. One of these schools is now considered to be one of the top nursing schools in all of India right now.

"My children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren are an active part of my life, and I hope by example I will pass the passion on to them to help the less fortunate," Ellen says.

With encouragement from her three children, Dr. Palmer is moving to the newest Touchmark community in McKinney, Texas, in October. We thank Dr. Ellen Palmer for all of her amazing contributions to the world and the nursing profession and hope her story will inspire others with a passion for helping.