Memorializing DCI’s First Chief Oncology Nurse

Evelyn MorganEvelyn Morgan, MSN, RN, for whom the DUHS Friends of Nursing Program's annual “Evelyn Morgan Award for Excellence in Oncology Nursing Practice” was named, passed away on Sept. 10, in Lilburn, GA. She was 96.

Born in Salisbury, North Carolina, in 1923, she would become the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center’s first Chief Oncology Nurse. She retired in 1988.  

After graduating from Catawba College with a Bachelor of Arts degree, Ms. Morgan (as she was known by all who knew her) went on to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and Master of Science in Nursing degree at Duke University School of Nursing, then did post-graduate work at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. She returned to Duke as a clinical nurse specialist in cancer research.

Ms. Morgan assembled a small group of nurses who worked to implement cancer treatment research protocols at the center. Through the years, she also helped train nurses who entered this new field for the first time.

In 1971, President Richard Nixon declared war on cancer. In 1973, the cancer center at Duke was one of eight centers to be designated a Comprehensive Cancer Center by the National Cancer Institute.

Through the years, Ms. Morgan, working with me and many other medical colleagues, helped plan and bring to fruition multidisciplinary cancers clinics for each cancer specialty within the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center (later called Duke Cancer Institute). The idea was that a new patient would be seen by a team of physicians — a surgeon, a medical oncologist, a radiation oncologist and possibly others, before a course of treatment was recommended. This was, at the time, a new concept in cancer patient care. Today it’s standard.

In 1975, Ms. Morgan was asked to participate in the formation of the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS).  She  requested permission to travel to Pittsburgh for the society’s first meeting. There was a question about whether there would be  sufficient national interest in this new field of nursing. Today, there are more than 35,000 members of the society. Their work has transformed the care of patients with cancer, thanks to the initiatives of pioneers like Ms. Morgan.

Capping ceremony, 1947
Capping ceremony, 1947. Ms. Morgan is in the center of the front row.

Because of her loyal service to the cancer center and the loving care she gave to her patients, the DUHS Friends of Nursing Endowment Fund named and supported an award in her honor in 1993 — the "Evelyn Morgan Award for Excellence in Oncology Nursing Practice" — bestowed annually ever since to an outstanding oncology nurse.

In her free time, Ms. Morgan loved to sing. She sang in glee clubs and choruses in school. While at Duke she sang in the Duke Chapel Choir. Her interest in history led her to join the Durham Preservation Society. Another love was the church. She was a member of the Duke Memorial United Methodist Church during her years in Durham.

A memorial service will be held at Sunrise at Five Forks in Lilburn, GA, on Oct. 4 at 1:30 p.m. and a private burial will take place in Salisbury, NC, on Oct. 6. Condolences may be sent or viewed at

Memorials may be sent to Duke Cancer Institute, Duke University Durham, NC, Duke Memorial Methodist Church, 504 W. Chapel St. Durham, NC, 27701 or Durham Rescue Mission, 1201 E. Main St. Durham, NC, 27701.

John Laszlo, MD, 88, was the first Director of Clinical Programs at the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center and was a professor of Medicine at Duke University School of Medicine from 1959 to 1986. In 1987 he left Duke to become senior vice president of Research for the American Cancer Society. He retired in 1997.

Ms. Susan Wilkin, Evelyn Morgan’s niece, also contributed to this article.