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Verna Adwell Rhodes

2011 Distinguished Friend of the School

  • Linda Owen Pedroley
  • Published: March 23, 2011

Verna Adwell Rhodes

Verna Adwell Rhodes’ career as a nurse, professor and researcher took her around the world and helped put the MU Sinclair School of Nursing on the map in the field of oncology nursing.

A pioneer in anti-neoplastic chemotherapy symptom management, Rhodes, EdS, M Ed, RN, FAAN, developed the Rhodes Index of Nausea, Vomiting and Retching (INVR), which is now used in some 35 countries. She also helped develop the Adpated Symptom Distress Scale Forms 1 and 2 and the Symptom Experience Index (SEI). Initially developed for symptom management of oncology patients, these instruments now are also used in pharmacology, psychology, obstetrics and other medical and surgical areas.

“She brought national and international recognition to the school through her research in chemotherapy symptom management,” said Associate Dean Roxanne McDaniel, PhD, RN. “She mentored students, faculty and nurses around the world and shared her passion for nursing and research.”

Rhodes came to MU in 1950 after earning her nursing diploma from St. Luke’s School of Nursing in Kansas City, Mo. While working at University Hospital, she also worked on her BSN while her husband, Dr. V. James Rhodes, worked on his graduate degree in agriculture economics. When he received a scholarship to Harvard University, the couple moved to Boston, Mass., where she continued her course work through Harvard’s extension program. The couple returned to Columbia and Rhodes finished her BSN in 1954.

While working on her bachelor’s degree, Rhodes planned and presented several television programs on the fledgling KOMU TV station. On the “Today’s Health” show she demonstrated subjects like how bathe a baby and how to make a first-aid kit. After graduation she began working as an instructor in the School of Nursing and was instrumental in developing an integrated medical-surgical curriculum so students could complete the entire four-year program on campus, rather than spending the last two years at clinical sites in St. Louis. She advanced her own education by earning graduate degrees in educational psychology and higher and adult education.

Rhodes was the first instructor in the School to present a clinical paper, “Open Technique and Care of the Burn Patient,” and to publish it in the American Journal of Nursing. She also was the first to attend an international nursing conference on what was then called “Cancer Nursing.”

“It was such an enlightening experience,” said Rhodes of the Second International Cancer Nursing Care Conference in London, England. “It really opened my eyes to some of the real needs...they didn’t have a way to adequately measure patient’s symptoms.”

When she returned from the conference, Rhodes set to work on developing the INVR, which was first published in 1983. Through subsequent research, she was able to present her work in countries around the world. Retired as an associate professor in 1995, Rhodes continued to teach part-time until 2000.

Rhodes and her husband support the School through three endowments they established to benefit students and faculty: The Verna Adwell Rhodes International Research Endowment, the Verna Adwell Rhodes International Travel Endowment and the V. James and Verna Adwell Rhodes Endowed Nursing Fellowship.

Rhodes says she is honored but humbled to be named a Distinguished Friend of the School.

“I think it is so important that people be employed in an area they appreciate and enjoy,” said Rhodes. “I must say this has been the most enjoyable.”