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Past Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient: Elsie Charlese Spencer

Photo: Charlese SpencerClass of 1962

Charlese Spencer received the UNM College of Nursing Distinguished Alumni Award in 2007. At the age of 13 she knew that she wanted to be a missionary in Africa. She acquired her missionary training at a college in Texas and then turned her attention to a lifelong career in nursing. She completed her RN at the Regina School of Nursing (University of Albuquerque) in 1952. Before she went to Africa in 1954, she trained as a midwife in London. She also studied linguistics because her clinic in Ghana was often conducted in seven languages, and she anticipated a need to document some of the unwritten languages.

On a furlough from Africa, Charlese obtained her bachelor of science in nursing at UNM, finishing in 1962. She taught nursing rotations to Native American students for the BIA and later went on to a MSN program at the University of Mississippi, graduating in 1973.

Charlese and a co-worker went to Ghana to staff a previously closed missionary medical clinic serving the medical needs of several bush tribes. The nearest doctor was 40 miles away, and the clinic was 100 miles from the nearest food store. The outpatient general medical clinics were scheduled Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the leprosy clinic on Tuesday and the pregnant women’s clinics on Thursday with many birth deliveries occurring at night. Since they were well accepted by the local populations, Charlese and her coworker treated 50-100 outpatients per day. The prenatal care case series outcome data she collected was evident that the prenatal care and medical treatments were saving lives. Charlese and her nurse co-workers provided nursing services in Africa during the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s.

Charlese supervised the construction of several buildings in Africa, earning the nickname “Madame Fix-it” from the native clinic workers. She participated in two field clinical trials in her first three-year term in Africa. One trial involved treatment for leprosy and the other was giving penicillin for yaws, a non-venereal infection. Both resulted in cures.

Retired from her missionary work, she was again a nurse educator at the University of Albuquerque, the Luna Vocational/Technical School and Highlands University. A severe medical condition forced her retirement from teaching in 1983. Since that time, she has written and published her memoirs ¬ a thousand pages in three books!

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