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SUSAN McMILLAN, R.N., Ph.D.: Professor of Nursing and chairwoman of the oncology concentration, College of Nursing, University of South Florida

Current Project: Studying quality of life and pain management issues for patients and caregivers in Hospice, a program that provides care at home for terminally ill people. The study, which has been going on for the past 3{ years, involves 110 people in Hospice's Pinellas and Hillsborough chapters.

When Susan McMillan was first asked to teach a class on death and dying more than 20 years ago, she was reluctant to take on such a painful topic. But that was before she understood that "people who are dying are just people in another stage of their lives. There's a lot you can do to help them and a lot you can learn from them," she said.

Now McMillan teaches nursing students who will care for patients with cancer. Her Hospice study is part of her campaign to make care better for cancer patients and all those with chronic or terminal illnesses.

"We wanted to get at the things Hospice patients cared about," McMillan says of the study, which questions patients concerning their physical, psychological, social, financial and spiritual well-being. The results so far have been surprising.

"We all thought the most important thing to a patient is physical comfort, but we found out it was spiritual comfort," she said. "We were all a bit taken aback by that."

While McMillan is a serious scientist and researcher, she is known as an inspiring and dynamic classroom teacher as well. On Oct. 14 she was given the 1994 Jerome Krivanek Distinguished Teacher Award, which recognizes originality, creativity and technical proficiency in USF instructors.

Among McMillan's teaching tools are the costumes she sometimes wears to dramatize her points. She walks into class in a black witch's hat on days when she gives pop quizzes, and dons a Sherlock Holmes costume before a lecture on "evaluation and judgment."

"I'm an educator, a professor and a scientist, and I use humor thoughtfully in the classroom," says McMillan, who has taught at USF since 1979. "I'm very serious about what we're doing. The only reason the costumes are funny is because it takes them by surprise."

McMillan, whose first classroom experience was teaching mothers on welfare to become nursing assistants in Salinas, Calif., says the experience opened her eyes to a profession she had previously dismissed.

"They were so thrilled with everything I taught them _ how to scrub and put on surgical gowns _ that I thought "Wow! This is what it's like to be a teacher.' Once I taught those welfare mothers and saw how excited they were to be learning, I knew this is what I had to do."

Why I teach: "Because I have to. I have a calling."