Dr. Anna Ottney Cain was drawn to nursing through her passion for helping others. She earned her master’s degree in psychiatric nursing at the University of Colorado in 1959 and previously earned her bachelor’s in nursing at The Ohio State University in 1956. In 1972 she gained her PhD at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, where she spent most of her career as a professor of psychiatric nursing and served as associate dean of Graduate Programs.
First and foremost, Cain identified as a teacher. Throughout her career she held many roles but was consistently drawn back to her passion: teaching psychiatric nursing. Up until she passed, she kept in close touch with many of her students. “She had a strong bond with the nurses she taught,” says Cain’s son, Jeff Cain. “That was her strength.”
Jodi Irving is a former student who was impacted by Cain. “She had a warm smile, a twinkle in her eye, and listening skills that quickly alerted me to a faculty member I wanted to learn from.” Irving was a graduate student at the University of Maryland School of Nursing, and she remembers Cain (who she fondly calls “Ann”) as a researcher at the forefront. At the time, Cain was working on her dissertation, but always strived to create meaningful learning opportunities for students. She was instrumental in getting classes approved to attend meetings and conferences at Georgetown University Department of Psychiatry led by Dr. Murray Bowen. At the time, the Bowen Family Theory was relatively new and controversial. Cain arranged for Dr. Bowen to speak at her classes in Baltimore, and the students experienced what many nurses never have: live debates between established theorists on an emerging theory. “It was thrilling and invigorating to say the least,” says Irving.
These experiences forged the beginning of a long relationship, first as professor and student, later as colleagues, and finally as friends. After graduate school, Irving and a “small cadre”, as she calls it, continued a lifelong friendship. “We would convene at the annual Georgetown Family Symposium and some of us would stay with Ann the nights of the meeting. These intimate settings were wonderful to get to know her more, as well as Ann’s young son Jeff,” she recalls. Irving found that even though Cain has had hundreds of students, when alone with her, you felt like you were her center of interest, “she was invested in you full tilt,” Irving says. “Our relationship with Ann shaped us in superior ways as clinicians, faculty, and consultants. We had been mentored by and learned from the best.”
Today, Cain’s legacy lives on through the Ann Ottney Cain Endowed Lecture in Psychiatric Nursing at the University of Maryland. The Lecture was established in 1994 by the Maryland nursing community to honor her upon her retirement from the University. The University of Colorado College of Nursing is proud of alumna Anna Ottney Cain, her work, and her legacy.
Contributions from Jeff Cain and Jodi Irving.