As we celebrate Women's History Month 2023, nowhere have the contributions of women shaped a profession more than the women in healthcare. From developing formal training for nurses to writing the guidelines for effective and nurturing patient care, women leaders throughout history have fought to improve patient outcomes and the patient experience.
Gender and nursing as a profession have always been associated with women. Today, there are an estimated 4.2 million registered nurses in the United States, and over 90% of them are women.
Early healthcare industry women pioneers like Florence Nightingale shaped the modern nursing profession. Today, women form the front lines of healthcare, serving as nurses, doctors, researchers, and in leadership positions.
To celebrate Women’s History Month 2023, ShiftMed honors these nine women in nursing that have changed patient care, ensuring that the patient is at the center of effective care delivery.
1. Faye Glenn Abdellah (1919-2017)
Faye Glenn Abdellah was a pioneer in nursing research and, through her work, shifted nursing care from disease-centered to patient-centered. She served as an active-duty nurse during the Korean War and was the first nurse officer to earn the rank of a two-star rear admiral. She was also the first woman to serve as Deputy Surgeon General. Abdellah led the formation of the National Institute of Nursing Research at the National Institutes of Health. Her passion was in elderly nursing care, and she advocated for family-involved long-term care planning for elderly patients. The Patient Assessment of Care Evaluation developed by Abdellah is still the standard used across the United States.
2. Della Raney (1912-1987)
Della Raney became the first black nurse accepted to the Army Nurse Corps, earning a commission as 2nd lieutenant. Due to segregation in the ranks, she was only allowed to care for black servicemen. During her distinguished military career, she served at the Tuskegee Army Air Field and Fort Huachuca, home of the famed Buffalo Soldiers. She retired at the rank of Major, and the National Black Nurses Association awarded a scholarship in her name.
3. Hazel Johnson-Brown (1927-2011)
Hazel Johnson-Brown served as a nurse in the newly integrated military following World War II, and quickly rose through the ranks. She served as Director for the Walter Reed Army Institute of Nursing and was nominated as Chief of the Army Nurse Corps, the first black woman to hold that position. While in that role, she developed initiatives to help diversify the Army Nurse Corps. She was also the first black woman promoted to Brigadier General. Following her retirement, she helped nursing students advance their careers as a professor of nursing at Georgetown University and George Mason University.
4. Loretta Ford (1920-present)
Loretta Ford recognized that due to a shortage of primary care physicians, families had difficulties accessing healthcare for their children. She collaborated with pediatrician Henry Silver to launch the first nurse practitioner program, which was focused on pediatrics, in 1965. Today, there are over 355,000 licensed nurse practitioners in the United States who work across several primary care disciplines. Under her training model, which is still used across nurse practitioner programs today, nurse practitioner education includes clinical care and research and stresses that nurse practitioners factor in social, psychological, environmental, and economic situations when developing care plans. Through her work, healthcare is more accessible to millions of Americans.
5. Rose Lim Luey (1929- 2019)
As the daughter of immigrants, Rose Lim Luey understood the difficulties immigrant families faced in the American healthcare system. Her work with immigrants fleeing the Vietnam War helped shape representative care and exposed the importance of bilingual caregivers.
6. Ann Wolbert Burgess (1936-present)
Ann Wolbert Burgess is a pioneer in the assessment and treatment of victims of trauma. She co-founded one of the first hospital-based crisis counseling programs, located at Boston City Hospital, and also developed ways of assessing and treating victims of rape. She has partnered with the FBI to study the links between child abuse, juvenile delinquency, and serial criminal offenders and has also guided the study of child abuse and trauma on human growth and development. She is an author of several books focused on the criminal mind and is currently researching elder abuse in nursing homes, cyber stalking, and internet sex crimes.
7. Margo McCaffery (1939-2018)
Nurse Margo McCaffery changed the way patients with chronic and acute pain are treated. Her research guided a better understanding of pain management to help prepare nurses to meet the pain needs of their patients – alleviating symptoms and improving their quality of life. She co-authored the first comprehensive textbook on pain management.
8. Patricia D. Horoho (1960-Present)
Patricia (Patty) Horoho led the third largest healthcare system in the world when she was appointed the 43rd Army Surgeon General and Commander of the U.S. Army Medical Command, the first female and first nurse to hold those posts. In her role, she shifted the Army medical organization from a disease-centered model to a holistic center of health that integrated behavioral health in service member care. She stood up the triage at the Pentagon during the September 11 attacks and has also served in Afghanistan.
9. Lauren Underwood (1986-present)
Nurse Lauren Underwood was elected to the 116th U.S. Congress, serving the 14th district of Illinois. She serves on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs and co-founded the Black Maternal Health Caucus, which is working on ways nurses and healthcare workers can address and overcome the health disparities in the treatment of pregnant women of color.
We applaud and celebrate all of the women in healthcare who work tirelessly to improve the care of their patients. Read about other nurse pioneers who we honored during Black History Month.