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'Easiest Decision' Aids Next Generation of Nurses

Rita Freeman Silen

Rita Freeman Silen

Forty years later, the wisdom embedded in Mary Boynton's voice still echoes within the crevices of Rita Freeman Silen's subconscious.

"Read the medication label-the patient's name, type of medicine, dosage-when you reach for it. Read the label again while drawing it up in a syringe. And read it again when discarding the vial."

By 6:45 a.m., alone in the operating room before her first patient arrives, Rita, a nurse anesthetist at Oregon's Portland VA Medical Center, has already replayed the triple-check system in her mind. While doing so, she visualizes the face of retired University of Tennessee nursing professor Boynton.
The simple but significant advice was commonplace in Boynton's teaching decades before the Institute of Medicine reported horrifying findings about medical errors being to blame for deaths and excess injuries.

"While it was not a universal directive at the time, her basic method for preventing errors made a huge impact," Rita says.

"I was just 20, but it's one of those lessons I still put into daily practice with America's veterans," she says. Or as humanity's caretaker alongside international relief teams, offering hope to women with childbirth-related pelvic injuries in Ethiopia and Haiti, where hygiene is a luxury. Or in the stark and sterile shoebox-sized rooms aboard a naval ship in Bangladesh, where parents and children prayed for a smile undisturbed by a cleft lip or palate.

Passion for Outreach
Rita's heart for serving the severely disadvantaged and even "desperate" began in 2001, when she took her first mission trip to the embattled former country of North Vietnam. Amid the strife and ill will of people weary from the prolonged Vietnam War, she realized the fullness of Martin Luther King Jr.'s words: "Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve."

"Children in need were not our enemy," she says, "and this mission was-as all are-evidence of good will and efforts at continued peacekeeping, no matter what the nation.

"To the people we serve, I am not Rita, I am the American."

She continues to be a soothing presence, bringing peace and humility to the critically ill in foreign lands, most recently in West Bank, Palestine. She turns could-be vacations into adventures of purpose-when she isn't making an exception for her "power of girlfriends up-all-night-like-we're-in-high-school" slumber parties and big-city shopping excursions.

"My spirit is always reignited when I travel to care for women, who are often most marginalized when international relief money is raised," says Rita, who has traversed 16 states and four countries.


Inspired to Take Action
In hindsight, the untapped reservoirs of tenacity and guarding human kindness came from Rita's mother, Charmiane Wells Freeman, who graduated from UT with a home economics degree the day before D-Day, and her aunt, who was a nurse anesthetist.

"They were my role models," says the Dyersburg, Tenn., native, who as a college student was inspired and challenged by the hustle and bustle of Knoxville campus life. With more than 30,000 students, the flagship campus "was bigger than my hometown," Rita says.

After graduating in Knoxville's first College of Nursing class in 1974, Rita advanced her nursing education at the University of Mississippi, where she earned her bachelor's degree in nurse anesthesiology. She stayed in Mississippi for five years and worked for a private hospital until she packed two suitcases and left with the clothes on her back to accept a job at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. After nine years in the Big Apple and a seven-year stint at a St. Louis hospital, she found her calling at the Portland VA Medical Center, where she has worked for the past 12 years.

"Each day I come focused and ready to accept responsibility for another human being's life," says Rita, who is in bed no later than 10 p.m. to be awoken by an alarm at 5:15 a.m. It's a privilege."

"My life-my journey-is a blessing I continue to be humbled by and grateful for," she says, "and because of this I have a responsibility to give back."

Leaving a Legacy
Along with her service on the executive board of the UT Alliance of Women Philanthropists, Rita says "the easiest decision" she ever made was establishing a bequest for the UT Knoxville's College of Nursing. The gift of retirement plan assets will create an endowment that Rita hopes will serve as an illuminating parable of "hope for the next generation of nurses to have access to international mission work opportunities inspired by educators who wholeheartedly believe in such contributions."

Like Rita, your gifts can provide support for UT and leave a lasting legacy of what you value in life. Learn how by contacting the Office of Planned Giving at (865) 974-4826 or plannedgiving@tennessee.edu to explore a variety of gift options and discover one that meets your goals.

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A charitable bequest is one or two sentences in your will or living trust that leave to The University Of Tennessee a specific item, an amount of money, a gift contingent upon certain events or a percentage of your estate.

an individual or organization designated to receive benefits or funds under a will or other contract, such as an insurance policy, trust or retirement plan

"I, [name], of [city, state, ZIP], give, devise and bequeath to The University Of Tennessee [written amount or percentage of the estate or description of property] for its unrestricted use and purpose."

able to be changed or cancelled

A revocable living trust is set up during your lifetime and can be revoked at any time before death. They allow assets held in the trust to pass directly to beneficiaries without probate court proceedings and can also reduce federal estate taxes.

cannot be changed or cancelled

tax on gifts generally paid by the person making the gift rather than the recipient

the original value of an asset, such as stock, before its appreciation or depreciation

the growth in value of an asset like stock or real estate since the original purchase

the price a willing buyer and willing seller can agree on

The person receiving the gift annuity payments.

the part of an estate left after debts, taxes and specific bequests have been paid

a written and properly witnessed legal change to a will

the person named in a will to manage the estate, collect the property, pay any debt, and distribute property according to the will

A donor advised fund is an account that you set up but which is managed by a nonprofit organization. You contribute to the account, which grows tax-free. You can recommend how much (and how often) you want to distribute money from that fund to UT or other charities. You cannot direct the gifts.

An endowed gift can create a new endowment or add to an existing endowment. The principal of the endowment is invested and a portion of the principal’s earnings are used each year to support our mission.

Tax on the growth in value of an asset—such as real estate or stock—since its original purchase.

Securities, real estate, or any other property having a fair market value greater than its original purchase price.

Real estate can be a personal residence, vacation home, timeshare property, farm, commercial property or undeveloped land.

A charitable remainder trust provides you or other named individuals income each year for life or a period not exceeding 20 years from assets you give to the trust you create.

You give assets to a trust that pays our organization set payments for a number of years, which you choose. The longer the length of time, the better the gift tax savings to you. When the term is up, the remaining trust assets go to you, your family or other beneficiaries you select. This is an excellent way to transfer property to family members at a minimal cost.

You fund this type of trust with cash or appreciated assets—and receive an immediate federal income tax charitable deduction. You can also make additional gifts; each one also qualifies for a tax deduction. The trust pays you, each year, a variable amount based on a fixed percentage of the fair market value of the trust assets. When the trust terminates, the remaining principal goes to UT as a lump sum.

You fund this trust with cash or appreciated assets—and receive an immediate federal income tax charitable deduction. Each year the trust pays you or another named individual the same dollar amount you choose at the start. When the trust terminates, the remaining principal goes to UT as a lump sum.

A beneficiary designation clearly identifies how specific assets will be distributed after your death.

A charitable gift annuity involves a simple contract between you and UT where you agree to make a gift to UT and we, in return, agree to pay you (and someone else, if you choose) a fixed amount each year for the rest of your life.

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