Memories from Elaine Dedrickson Dyer

It has been 35 years since Dean Dr. Elaine D. Dyer retired. With her passing in December 2020, her influence continues to be seen in the College of Nursing at Brigham Young University through faculty performance and success in research, scholarly publications, and presentations.

A few weeks before her death, Dr. Dyer celebrated her 97th birthday. As the college prepares for its 70th anniversary in 2022, her legacy of implementing change, stressing research, applying evidence-based nursing education, and sense of mission are still strong and progressing in the College of Nursing. Let’s consider some of her milestones.

Elaine Dedrickson Dyer was born on November 9, 1923, in Spanish Fork, Utah, to Gilbert Braithwaite Dedrickson and Alberta Larsen. Her surname and her Icelandic heritage are inherited on her paternal line from her father, Gilbert, her grandfather Theodore Dahl Dedrickson, born in Iceland, her great grandfather, Thordur his parents, Didrik Jonsson and Sigridur Amadottir, both Icelanders.

In her own words, she writes: “My first choice for a vocation was to be a medical doctor prepared to do surgery on children. I went to Brigham Young University because I was too young to apply to a medical school. I asked a professor to write a recommendation for me, but he refused because girls do not go into medicine. The door that was open to me was nursing.

“During the four years I spent in Catholic school (1942-1946), I learned a lot about my religion. I learned more about my testimony and about having firm values that I never did deviate from. So many of the values I had were also valued by the Catholic nuns.

Nursing uniform at Holy Cross.
Courtesy: Elaine Dyer

“When I graduated, I was awarded the Bishop Hunt Medal. Bishop Hunt was Catholic Bishop at Cathedral of the Madeline in Salt Lake, and I was awarded the outstanding nurse of the year for 1945 at Holy Cross. I guess it would qualify as valedictorian, but they didn’t call it that. So, I took that as a feather in my cap to have been awarded that honor.

“When I took the licensing exam at the State Capital, I got the highest score of all of the people that took the test that day, and that included St. Mark’s Hospital, LDS Hospital, Holy Cross Hospital, and County Hospital.

“After checking salaries and working conditions in Salt Lake City, I signed with the Veterans Administration on February 12, 1947. While working full-time at the Salt Lake City Veterans Administration, she enrolled at the University of Utah and received both her master’s and doctoral degrees. She and Maxine Cope were two of the early nurse graduates earning a Ph.D. (1967) in the State of Utah.”

She continues: “At the University of Utah, I completed a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology in 1967. I had an opportunity to work in research and was lucky to have asked questions that other people were interested in. I had 50 publications, including three books and 47 articles in refereed journals of psychological, medical, nursing, and dental professions.

“When I went to work for the Veterans Administration, I attended the University West 11th Ward. I participated in the MM and Gleaner class and met Gordon Westley Dyer. We were married on September 21, 1955, in the Salt Lake Temple.”

While at the VA, Elaine conducted research projects which brought her to the attention of the Veteran’s Administration in Washington, D. C. Her sphere of influence expanded as she continued research on a national level to improve nursing care in the entire VA system of clinics and hospitals.

“I was made chief of research of clinical nursing, which required a Doctorate for employment. Then I soon began working out of the Washington, D.C. Central Office for the Veterans Administration. The responsibility of my job was to improve the quality of nursing care given to veterans. Doors were opened, and I met the top nursing people. The top medical people were going in and out of VA headquarters, and you rubbed shoulders and could talk with and have breaks with people from all over the United States and a lot of people from other countries, Great Britain particularly. I was made chief of nursing research at the VA. That was a central office control position. Chief was the highest grade that was allowed by the VA in Salt Lake City.

“I have spent a lot of my life preparing myself as a teacher and as a nurse, and as a researcher, I have made a list of the publications that I have made and have several articles in medical journals. My Masters’ thesis, a follow-up on my master’s thesis, was published in the medical journal Diseases of the Chest, which is a prestigious medical journal. The University of Utah Press published my Doctoral dissertation. It went into second publication, and I sold over 10,000 copies, lifted my spirits substantially. I think it is the first fact and analysis-based dissertation in Nursing. I presented professional papers at national microbiology meetings, national psychology meetings, and national nursing meetings.”

In 1972, at the end of her 28-year career at the VA, both in Salt Lake City and Washington, D. C., she was invited to assist the BYU College of Nursing and work with faculty to improve nursing research skills.

“I started to consult with Brigham Young University College of Nursing. Maxine Cope, who got her Doctorate from the University of Utah about the same time I got mine, was the dean, and I traveled down from Salt Lake weekly. Committees from the College of Nursing met with me at the VA to discuss ways to implement evidence-based nursing education and practice research.”

In 1981, she was appointed dean of the College of Nursing (a position she held until retiring in 1986). Her associate deans were Dr. Jennie B. Van Drimmelen and Dr. Camilla S. Wood, and later Leslee S. Boss (BS ’61) and Dr. June Leifson (BS ’57).

By the end of 1981, the college administration decided to discontinue the associate degree program, committing to baccalaureate preparation as entry into the profession. The last class of the associate degree program was admitted in May 1983 and graduated the following year.

From Dean Elaine S. Marshall’s book Learning the Healer’s Art: Nursing Education at Brigham Young University, we learn that “Dean Dyer championed nursing’s growth and stature as a profession, promoted research among faculty, and saw research as critical to providing a sound foundation for nursing practice and advancing the College of Nursing.

“Nevertheless, Dean Dyer succeeded in leading the progress of an impressive array of faculty research and nursing education. For example, she completed a ten-year study of entering and graduating nursing students. The study examined the personality and psychological factors that affect nursing choice as a profession and nursing success. The study’s purpose was to provide data to help improve the selection process and the retention of nursing candidates, students’ counseling, and the design of nursing education concepts and practices [Dyer, E. D. (1987). Can university success and first-year job performance be predicted from academic achievement, vocational interest, personality, and biographical measures? Psychological Reports, 61(2), 655-671.]. She also continued her expertise in measurement and quantitative analysis.” (pp93-94).

She encouraged faculty members to engage in research dissemination across the world. In 1989, faculty members presented research at conferences in South Korea, Hong Kong, and Thailand. She continued the tradition of sponsoring annual nursing research conferences, inviting distinguished national nursing leaders; and under her leadership, she established a conference that focused on nursing professionalism.

Dyer was involved in the planning and construction of the 12-floor Spencer W. Kimball Tower (still the tallest building on BYU Campus, it was named after the twelfth president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). The college welcomed office space on the fourth and fifth floors during the 1981 fall semester. It later acquired an area on the first floor of the building for its simulation labs.

Always the champion of professional nursing at the highest levels, Dean Dyer asserted that nurses must “take learning from the physical, social sciences, and religion; read and contribute to the professional literature; pose effective research questions; and use such knowledge to solve problems.”

Dyer passed away on December 9, 2020. An obituary with additional personal details is available at

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