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Honoring Inspirational Nurses

Honoring Inspirational Nurses

Posted on 12 May 2022 by Khadijah

Happy Nurses Week! We're proud to shine the spotlight on nurses this week and always. Cheers to the hard-working, courageous nurses who continue to bring their skills and compassion to our families and friends in a variety of health care settings.

Nurses have long been leaders in health care. Some changed lives quietly behind the scenes in the face of monumental challenges. Others jumped in with gusto to blaze new trails. Wars, racism, gender discrimination and countless other foes couldn't stop fearless nurses.

Nursing has come a long way thanks to those who walked before us. Take a closer look at four of the most influential nurses who shaped health care and who continue to inspire nurses today.

Florence Nightingale

Considered the founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale may be the most well-known nurse in history. She became a nurse in 1851 and soon went to Turkey during the Crimean War. After seeing the unsanitary, harsh conditions of the hospital facilities, Nightingale sprang into action to improve conditions and offer better care for the British soldiers. She is credited with reducing mortality rates significantly in these military hospitals and ultimately reformed sanitation standards around the world.

In 1860, she opened the Nightingale School for Nurses as the first official training program for nurses. Today, her influence continues with the Nightingale Pledge, the nurses' version of the Hippocratic Oath. In addition, dozens of hospitals are named after Nightingale. International Nurses Day is recognized on her birthday.

Hazel Johnson-Brown

Overcoming much adversity, Hazel Johnson-Brown became the first African American female nurse to become a general in the U.S. Army in 1979. That same year, she was appointed Chief of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps.

Throughout her accomplished career, she served in many leadership roles and advanced education and diversity in nursing and in the military.

Born in 1927, Johnson-Brown wanted to be a nurse from a young age. She was an excellent student yet was denied admission to the first nursing school she applied to due to her race. As a result, she left her Pennsylvania hometown, moved to New York, and trained at the Harlem Hospital School of Nursing, a school just for Black women.

She eventually returned to Pennsylvania where she took a job at the Philadelphia Veterans Association. In 1955, she enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps and was soon serving in Japan.

In 1957, Johnson-Brown returned to civilian life and completed her bachelor's in nursing degree at Villanova University. She also enrolled in the Army Nurse Corps Registered Nurse Student Program, which led her back to active duty in Washington state.

Over the next few years, Johnson-Brown served in several leadership roles in the Army Nurse Corps. She also discovered a love of education and earned her master's degree in nursing education and then her PhD in education administration. While earning her PhD, Johnson-Brown was appointed director and assistant dean of Walter Reed Army Institute of Nursing. She also served as chief nurse in Seoul, South Korea.

In 1979, she received the historic promotion to Chief of the Army Nurse Corps. Johnson-Brown was just the third female general and the first Black female general in the Army.

Johnson-Brown worked tirelessly to improve equality in the Army Nurse Corps and developed scholarships for nurses. She also taught at two nursing schools throughout the 1980s and helped found the Center for Health Policy, Research and Ethics, an institution that continues to promote independent research.

During her career, she earned the title "Army Nurse of the Year" twice, along with numerous awards. Her military nursing career spanned 26 years until she passed away in 2011. 

Luther Christman 

Born in 1915, Luther Christman, RN, PhD, FAAN, opened the door for more male nurses after being denied admission to two different nursing programs because of his gender. When he was ultimately allowed to enroll in the Pennsylvania School of Nursing, he wasn't allowed to complete a maternal nursing rotation because he was male. He was also denied entry to the Army Nurse Corps during World War II and to two university programs because he was male.

Throughout his career, he was an advocate for gender and racial equity.

Christman received a master of education degree in clinical psychology and a PhD in sociology and anthropology. A well-known professor in psychiatric nursing, he later became the first male dean of the nursing school at Vanderbilt University. With his pioneering spirit, he developed nursing as an applied science and introduced the practitioner-teacher model there. He also was the first dean to hire African American women as faculty members at Vanderbilt.

In 1972, Christman became the first dean of the Rush University College of Nursing and vice president for nursing affairs at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago. In this role, he developed the Rush Model for Nursing which sets standards of excellence in nursing. He also created programs with science-based academic models from the baccalaureate through doctorate levels.

His career challenges led him to revitalize the National Male Nursing Association in 1980, which was eventually renamed the American Assembly for Men in Nursing. Today, AAMN chapters flourish around the country, including the GMEN chapter at Goldfarb School of Nursing.

In recognition of his achievements, Christman was the first man inducted into the hall of fame of the American Nurses Association.

Christman devoted his career to ensuring nurses of all genders and races gain the education and respect they deserve. As a champion for nurses, he advocated for higher salaries for nurses, promoted the teacher-practitioner role, and sought racial equality in the nursing field.

Christman died in 2011 at age 96.

Dorothea Dix

A bit of a late bloomer, Dorothea Dix didn't become a nurse until she was 39. But she quickly made up for lost time as an advocate for the mentally ill.

Throughout her life, she worked to improve living conditions for the mentally ill and those in prison who were confined in deplorable conditions. Dix conducted her research in mental health treatment in Massachusetts and created a report of the human rights violations that she then presented to the state legislature. This groundbreaking report led to the expansion and improvement of the state's mental hospital system.

Her pioneering efforts in mental health soon spread to other states and led to new or improved psychiatric hospitals staffed with trained nurses. During her lifetime, the number of hospitals caring for the mentally ill increased from 13 to 123 as Dix advanced the specialty of psychiatric nursing.

In 1861, Dix volunteered in the Union Army. At age 59, she was appointed as the Civil War Superintendent of Army Nurses and helped recruit the first 2,000 nurses during the war.

This brave, visionary nurse died in 1887 at age 85.

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