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2016 Dare to Care Award

Feb 01, 2016

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Ann Hutton, PhD, APRN

There’s always one patient who sticks with you.

College of Nursing Assistant Professor Ann Hutton’s experience with a suicidal young father more than 50 years ago set her on a path of caring for the mentally ill and teaching other nurses how to do the same.

As a young student, Hutton tried unsuccessfully to buck a family avocation (three doctors, two nurses and a bacteriologist among her immediate family members).

“There were two things I said I would never do: one was to be a nurse and the other to teach,” she says. “Be careful what you say you will never do in life. Our unconscious does not like to be told ‘no.’”

In the end, Hutton studied nursing at Stanford University, graduating in 1958. She returned to Utah, taking a job at the Veterans Hospital. She rotated from the chronic lung and geriatric care, through neurology and eventually to the psychiatric unit. After a few years, Hutton was appointed head nurse in the women’s unit, caring for traumatized World War II nurses. Several years later, she landed in the hospital’s drug-trial unit, where she met the bipolar patient who would change her career. After a series of brutal treatments with maximum-dosage drug prescriptions followed by cold turkey withdrawals, the young man killed himself on a day trip out of the hospital.

In the wake of his death, Hutton decided to return to school and pursue her master’s degree. She graduated in 1969 and took a teaching job at the College of Nursing. In 1992, she started her faculty therapy practice. And in 1994, Hutton received her Ph.D. in health psychology.

Looking back, she traces her interest in caring for those with mental health issues to her days working in Stanford’s hospital in San Francisco.

“Most of our patients were quite disturbed,” Hutton says. “It was a revelation to me to be able to talk to somebody and realize they were not in their right minds, but see that they had the same human needs as anybody.”

Now, after more than four decades of work, her patients – and her students – number in the 100s.

“Good luck finding a mental health nurse who hasn’t been taught by Ann Hutton,” says Associate Professor Katherine Supiano, director of the college’s Caring Connections program.

For nearly 20 years, Hutton has volunteered to lead Caring Connections support groups. She was instrumental as a consultant to the Utah Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). And she has been a member of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA), the Utah State Mental Health Planning Committee and the Utah Council of Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurses (UCPMHN).

"I have learned from both my educational and clinical practice roles that the most important aspect of caring is the ability to witness and validate the experiences of those who come to us in distress," Hutton says. "Acceptance, informed empathy, and compassion, provide the human connection that is needed for individuals to develop new neuronal connections that lead to new learning and adaptive coping skills."  

Hutton will receive the Dare to Care Award at the Honors for Nursing event Monday, May 9 at 5:30 p.m.

Read: Dr. Hutton's own words about her long career as a teacher and therapist.