Pediatric Oncology Nurse Remembers UCSF School of Nursing

December 2012Susan Godstone

Gail Perin began her career as a pediatric oncology nurse in the UCSF Department of Pediatrics in the early 1970s, when those in the field were observing tremendous progress in survival rates. As a result of new drugs and improved treatments, she witnessed children survive cancers that previously would have ended their lives.

“Not only were the new drugs and treatments more effective,” she says, “but the children who came through the experience were in a much healthier state.”

Finding Her Calling

Perin is one of those fortunate people who found her calling early in life. She grew up, the youngest of four children, in Port Huron, Michigan. Her mother was a nurse with a strong work ethic, and Perin wanted to emulate her.

After Perin earned her nursing degree at Michigan State University and completed a master’s at UCSF School of Nursing with an emphasis in pediatrics, she decided on her dream job: clinical nurse specialist in pediatric oncology. No such position existed at the time, but a few years later Perin made her dream a reality.

She applied to the American Cancer Society for a grant that would pay her initial salary as a clinical nurse specialist in pediatric oncology at UCSF. In her proposal she explained why it was so critical for a nurse specialist to be on the pediatric oncology team. Her boldness paid off as the American Cancer Society agreed to provide financial support for two and a half years, enough time for her to become an established figure in the UCSF Department of Pediatrics.

“I was so fortunate to get that grant and become a nurse specialist at UCSF,” she says. “The people I worked with were just light-years ahead of everyone else in terms of originality and innovation.”

Interdisciplinary Care

She remembers physician Arthur (Art) Ablin, then director of Pediatric Clinical Oncology, as being one of those people. He encouraged a multidisciplinary approach to patient care, welcomed Gail onto his team and understood how important it was to involve the parents of the sick children in the decisionmaking process.

Keeping families and patients informed was a big piece of what Perin did. She helped educate the parents about what to expect as their child went through cancer and cancer treatment. In addition, she explained to parents of children who were likely to die why they might want to consider a death at home rather than in a hospital setting. Perin was a leader in this movement, visiting families in their homes and helping them prepare for what was likely to come. Families and children deeply appreciated her work, says Ablin, now professor emeritus, Clinical Pediatrics at UCSF.

“It was a breakthrough for the time, long before hospice,” he says. “Gail was such a wonderful and essential part of our treatment team. She was, and still is, my model of a nurse colleague.”

In 1995, Perin returned to graduate school at UCSF to become a pediatric nurse practitioner. Afterward, she worked for California Children’s Services for 12 years before retirement, continuing to help families of children with cancer connect with doctors and receive the special care they needed.

Perin is not the only one in her family with a UCSF connection. She met her eventual husband, physician David M. Perin, who completed a pediatric residency at UCSF, when he took Ablin’s place as Perin’s physician advisor for a year. Married now for 39 years, the couple has two grown sons.

Staying Connected to UCSF

Perin met Judith Mazia, associate director with the UCSF Office of Gift & Endowment Planning, at a School of Nursing event in 2011 and told Mazia of her intention to provide for the School in her estate plan. Mazia provided sample bequest language for Perin to pass on to her estate-planning attorney. Perin and her husband have now made a provision in their living trust to leave a percentage of their estate to the UCSF School of Nursing.

“I have a great deal of gratitude that UCSF was at the forefront of pediatric cancer care and that I was a part of it all,” says Perin. “The institution opened important doors for me, and this is my way of saying thank you.”

For more information on making a bequest to UCSF School of Nursing, please contact Judith Mazia, associate director, Office of Gift & Endowment Planning, at 415/476-1475. If you have already made a bequest, please let us know so we may invite you to join Heritage Circle, a group of individuals who have made gifts to UCSF through their estate plans.