Forty years ago, St. Patrick Hospital ran a nursing school.
Not surprisingly, all its students were women.
Then came 1970 and Nick Pickolick.
"I was the first man to ever be admitted to their program," Pickolick said. "But I have to say I was very well treated. I was just another student, but it was certainly an interesting time."
In a couple of weeks, the 65-year-old Pickolick will retire from the job he got after graduating from St. Pat's in 1974.
"On May 19, I'll have been a nurse at Community (Medical Center) for 36 years," Pickolick said recently. "And two days after that, I'm retiring for good."
It's not without some reservation that Pickolick is finally stepping aside. He's at something of a loss as to how he'll occupy his time, although his wife is also retired and they're not planning to just sit around the house.
"I do think it will take a while to figure out exactly what to do next, though, so we're going to take the summer and work that out," he said.
Pickolick, who worked mostly as a surgical nurse, saw radical changes during his three-plus decades in medicine.
While he was in nursing school, he also worked on an ambulance in Missoula.
"There were no real qualifications to do that," he said. "The fact that I had done some medical work in the Air Force was enough. I mean, mostly what we did on the ambulance was first aid, but you could find yourself in some pretty intense situations. There's no way you could be hired on an ambulance today without proper training."
Technology also provided sweeping changes in medicine, and Pickolick said nurses are always learning about some new piece of equipment that changes how medicine is practiced.
"One of the best changes has been less-invasive surgery techniques that let people get out of the hospital a lot sooner," he said.
But one thing never changed, and for Pickolick, that was what kept him going.
"At rock bottom, nursing is about taking care of people, and that, for whatever reason, was what I was good at," he said.
Nothing was more rewarding, Pickolick said, than meeting an anxious patient before surgery.
"People are just very nervous beforehand, and what I most enjoyed was spending that time with with and helping them calm down and relax before they went in," he said. "When they were done, they were always so appreciative that you were there for them."
Not long ago, Pickolick had to take some time off work because of an infection. When he came back, he did administrative work for a while. But he longed to get back to doing what he loves.
"I was already thinking about retirement, so I told my boss that I really wanted to get back to taking care of patients," he said. "And that's why I feel really good about retiring now, because I'm going out doing what got me into the profession in the first place - taking care of people."
Reporter Michael Moore can be reached at 523-5252 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.