An Arizona Nurse's Unique History

By Shannon E. Perry, RN

Lila Kreibich Van Cuyk has lived and worked as a nurse in Arizona since 1995. What makes her unique is that she was in the first class admitted to the Walter Reed Army Institute of Nursing (WRAIN). WRAIN was developed by the Army as a baccalaureate program in nursing in cooperation with the University of Maryland to meet the demand for nurses due to the escalation of the Vietnam War. As members of the military, students received tuition and expenses, uniform allotment, and housing. Graduates of the WRAIN program were obliged to serve in the military or essential civilian or other federal government services for a specified period of time, usually the length of time they had been in training.

Prior to WRAIN, the Army developed two programs to meet the increased need for nurses due to war. During World War I, the Army created the Army School of Nursing. These nurses were educated in military hospitals but were not members of the military. In World War II, a different strategy was used. The Cadet Nurse Corps, supervised by the United States Public Health Service, focused on accelerated training of nurses to increase the numbers of nursing students to provide care in hospitals freeing graduate nurses for military service.

Of the 1000 individual applicants to the WRAIN program, 135 were selected, including 17-year-old, Lila Kreibich of La Crosse, Wisconsin. In high school, Lila was an exemplary student, consistently on the honor roll while participating in various clubs and organizations. Lila applied to the program because she wanted a college education which her parents could not afford. Lila began the WRAIN program in 1964 and was inducted into the Army prior to starting classes. Basic pre-nursing courses could be taken wherever the student was accepted. Private First Class Kreibich enrolled as a student at Saint Teresa College in Winona, Wisconsin. At the end of two years of coursework, she transferred to Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, DC, and began nursing courses. The combined program lasted four years including three summers.

Clinical rotations were largely at Walter Reed and included taking care of some of the 200- 250 critically injured soldiers who were evacuated from Vietnam and arrived each week. The obstetrics and pediatric rotations occurred at other military hospitals where military dependents were treated. In addition to typical nursing classes, as members of the military, Lila and her classmates had experiences necessary for the Army which included physical training and setting up a field hospital. Upon completion of the program, the graduates were commissioned as Second Lieutenants in the United States Army. Following graduation, Lila and her classmates went to Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas for basic training.

Soon after graduation, Lila married her husband who was stationed at the same base. She was promoted to First Lieutenant and worked in the nursery in the hospital at Fort Knox, Kentucky until she became pregnant. At that time, pregnancy resulted in an automatic discharge. First Lieutenant Van Cuyk was discharged in August of 1969. Her husband was discharged in September of 1970.

Lila and her family moved to Phoenix in 1995. She obtained a certificate in health management and worked in a variety of settings as a clinical manager in a local hospital, team leader in a hospice, MDS coordinator for the Arizona State Veteran’s Home, long-term care surveyor for the Arizona Department of Health, and in Quality Improvement for eight retirement centers. For the last five years of her work life, she was an Education Consultant for the Arizona State Board of Nursing. Lila retired in 2011.

WRAIN provided valuable knowledge and skills which launched a nursing career. Lila is grateful for the opportunity to become a nurse that the Army provided and from which the citizens of Arizona benefitted.

Shannon E. Perry, RN, PhD, FAAN is a long-time AzNA member and is passionate about the history of nursing in our state and nation.

*Based on Perry, S.E., WRAIN, the Walter Reed Army Institute of Nursing: An Oral History, a Poster Presentation at the American Association for the History of Nursing Conference, Dallas, TX, September, 2019.