Dorothy Patach

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A Nurse and Activist

Dorothy Patach is the kind of woman someone can talk to about her life and, five hours later, still be hearing stories from the highlights reel. From major medical advancements to community-revolutionizing projects, she has accomplished many amazing things in her life and given so much of herself to Omaha and the nursing profession. Her 30 years at the University of Nebraska at Omaha are such a small fraction of her incredibly full life, and her kindness, generosity, and innovation will long remain in the hearts and minds of those she has touched.

Part One Bohemia to Nebraska

At different points in the late 1800s, both sides of Dorothy Patach’s family immigrated to Nebraska from Bohemia, which is now located in the Czech Republic. Some wanted to avoid going to war, and others wanted new opportunities. They were hardworking people who were invested in their community and believed in the importance of education. Dorothy’s parents, John and Marie, had been acquaintances “back in the old country,” but it wasn’t until they met again in Omaha that they decided to marry. Dorothy was born on December 4, 1923 in South Omaha.

Early Interest in Nursing

Dorothy’s father had a strong influence on her as he provided a lot of volunteer service and was very community-oriented. But another strong memory of him also had a lasting effect on Dorothy. After drinking some milk once, Dorothy’s father developed undulant fever, an infectious bacterial disease, and almost died. The hospital didn’t know how to treat it well, so Dorothy’s mother kept him home and they sponged him to keep his fever down. Without some important medical advancements like dialysis that could have helped her father, he suffered from numerous ailments brought on from a number of procedures performed at the hospital. Although she was only five, Dorothy remembers sitting on the bed, sponging his face and shoulders to keep his temperature down. This was the beginning of her desire to become a nurse.

Part Three Childhood and Education

Dorothy led an active childhood and had a happy home life, encouraged by her parents to learn and do new things. She went to school at Hawthorne Elementary, which was “an excellent school with great teachers.” Her mother had started teaching her before she formally began school, so Dorothy found herself far advanced compared to other classmates. Teachers convinced Dorothy’s mom to have her skip kindergarten and first grade, but her mother refused to push her further ahead. Instead, Dorothy was assigned to help teach other kids who were struggling. As she puts it, “For me, teaching was always there.”

Dorothy was interested in artistic output, which her parents also encouraged. She started taking piano lessons around age six and eventually acquired an accordion, which a musician from the bank taught her to play. Dorothy even taught herself to figure skate

Part Four Starting Nursing School

Dorothy made plans to attend college with the aim of becoming a nurse. She had her sights set on the University of Nebraska School for Nurses. In order to be accepted into the nursing program, students typically needed to have completed two years of college courses first. Dorothy’s friend Helen came up with the idea that they should attend the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, mostly because Helen wanted the prestige of going to a state university on scholarship. Dorothy’s father refused to let her apply for scholarships and declared that they would pay their own way. She and Helen planned to take classes to get enough credit hours to apply for the incoming nursing class the following September. But the attack on Pearl Harbor that December changed everything.

On January 1, 1942, Dorothy and Helen received letters from Charlotte Burgess,

Part Five University Hospital

Ms. Burgess was an accomplished woman and a role model to Dorothy. She had gone to college and earned her diploma in nursing before serving as an army nurse during World War I. After that, she received her Bachelor of Arts at a school in South Dakota before earning her Master of Arts from Columbia University. She was already in her 70s by the time Dorothy joined the nursing class. When Dorothy was a senior in her program, Ms. Burgess had fallen down and hurt her back. She was kept at the University of Nebraska hospital for about two months, and Dorothy was assigned to personally care of her during the day as well as lead the team that was caring for her the rest of the time. Dorothy sighs and then laughs while remembering what it was like to

Part Six Straightening Out Clarkson Hospital

In December 1948, Dorothy became a supervisor at Clarkson Hospital because they were having problems. One of the doctors at the Medical Center, Dr. Perrin, asked her to apply and “straighten them out.” Dorothy had already accepted a supervisory position in Long Beach, California, but the job wasn’t scheduled to start for several months. Dr. Perrin told Dorothy that he was sending the nurse currently in the role to school in Philadelphia to learn how to do her job properly. He promised Dorothy he wouldn’t keep her more than six months. Dorothy reluctantly agreed since it wouldn’t interfere with her position in California, but the problem at the hospital was much worse than she had anticipated: “I quit in one week. It was that bad! It was terrible!” But Dr. Perrin told Dorothy she should give it a chance. Dorothy’s

Part Seven Teaching and Administration

After she left Clarkson in December 1956, Dorothy became a nursing arts instructor at Jennie Edmundson School of Nursing in Council Bluffs, Iowa until 1959. During her time there, Maxine Jacks, Assistant Supervisor to the School of Nursing, pushed Dorothy to pursue further education. Dorothy’s nursing education had been a 36-month program, like many others at that time. She decided to further her education and received her Bachelor of Science in Home Economics in 1955, and eventually her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. The University of Omaha offered a Master of Science in Nursing Education equivalent to a strong program in Iowa City. Dorothy got a copy of the curriculum from Iowa and took the extra courses she needed, such as statistics and psychology, and earned that degree in 1959.

Dorothy’s career in medicine included a lot of continued education on

Part Eight Retirement and Community Activism

After her retirement, Dorothy continued to help on campus with tasks like student registration. The University wouldn’t allow the work to be done completely voluntarily, so Dorothy happily worked for $1 an hour though she remembers it could be quite awful in the summer: “We were out there in the Field House with the flies…It was terrible! But you know, it was fun!”