Merle E. Pray, RN, APN, is a nurse psychotherapist and nursing educator with over 60 years of service to her discipline. Inspired by the story of famous Civil War nurse Clara Barton, she decided from an early age to pursue a career in medicine. She earned a diploma in nursing from the New Hampshire School of Nursing in 1952 and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing at Loyola University in 1977. Ms. Pray completed her education with a Master of Science from the University of Illinois in 1983.
From 1953 until 1964, Ms. Pray was the head nurse at the Michael Reese Psychiatric and Psychosomatic Psychiatric Institute of Chicago. She briefly served as a community placement coordinator for the Illinois Department of Mental Health and Development Disabilities before becoming a mental health administrator and area planning coordinator, a role she would hold between 1978 and 1981. Ms. Pray excelled with the Department of Veterans Affairs in 1984 as a head nurse for the Jesse Brown VA West Side Medical Center of Chicago. She rose to become an advance practice nurse in 1985 and a clinical specialist in 1986, where she remained until her retirement in 2013.
While employed by the Illinois Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, Ms. Pray was one of the first nurses to be certified as a generalist in psychiatric mental health nursing in the State of Illinois. Subsequently, she was certified as a specialist in psychiatric nursing by the ANA and certified in addictions nursing by the International Nurses Society on Addictions.
Ms. Pray is proud of her involvement with the Department of Veterans Affairs and considers it an honor to see the progress her patients achieve with appropriate care. She is the author of “Effectiveness of Day Treatment for Dual Diagnosis Patients with Severe Chronic Illness,” published in 2008 in the Journal of Addictions. Ms. Pray is a member of the American Nurses Association, the National Nurses Society on Addictions, the American Psychiatric Nurses Association and Sigma Theta Tau.
Notably, Ms. Pray met a former patient on the street, who told her how much she helped her. She was initially a very disturbed person who thought everyone could hear her thoughts, and she remembers telling the former patient that her thoughts are her own. However, by telling the patient this, that helped her establish boundaries between herself and her environment. Ms. Pray would not have known how much it has helped her if she had not met her again on Michigan Avenue.
Ms. Pray would like to be remembered by her family, friends and the community or leave a legacy as someone who was born during the Great Depression in 1931, owned the house that she was born in and, when she was young and innocent, was able to go away from home and become a professional nurse. The advice that she can offer the next generation or others aspiring to work in her profession of nursing is that there are so many fields that you can find something to be interested in. If you want to help people, it is an extremely important career because you are taking care of people when they are sick.