Congratulations, Minority Nurse Scholarship Winners!

Another year, another record-breaking number of applicants, and another group of nurses and soon-to-be nurses that overwhelmed us with their determination, dedication, compassion, and intelligence. Choosing our scholarship winners has always been a difficult task, and this year was no exception. But after much deliberation, we are so proud and thrilled to introduce our winners to you! We hope their stories resonate with you just as they did with us.

And just as we reveal this year’s winners, we invite you to send in your applications for next year’s scholarship. To apply for the Minority Nursescholarship, you must:

  • Be a racial or ethnic minority.
  • Be enrolled (as of September 2013) in either the third or fourth year of an accredited B.S.N. program in the United States or an accelerated program leading to a B.S.N. degree (such as R.N.-to-B.S.N. or B.A.-to-B.S.N.) or an accelerated master’s entry program in nursing for students with bachelor’s degrees in fields other than nursing (such as B.A.-to-M.S.N.). Graduate students who already have a bachelor’s degree in nursing are not eligible.
  • Have a 3.0 GPA or higher (on a 4.0 scale).
  • Be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.

We encourage you to apply for the 2013 scholarship and look forward to reading your application!

First-Prize Winner, Shylisa Hicks

Born in San Diego, Shylisa Hicks now lives in Bastrop, Louisiana, and attends Grambling State University. She belongs to a litany of nursing associations, volunteers her time, and has bright plans for the future.

But it is Shylisa’s life story, one of overcoming seemingly crushing adversity, that truly inspires. Her father was killed when she was five years old. Child Protective Services removed Shylisa from her mother’s home at 10 years old. She went to live with her grandmother, then aunt and uncle, where she stayed.

Originally two grades behind her peers, Shylisa persevered and eventually graduated high school early as an honors student. She continued her honors course work at Grambling State.

Bubbly and laughing, Shylisa says she calls her aunt and uncle mom and dad. “I wouldn’t be anywhere with out my parents,” she says. “I appreciate it all.” She also credits her success to her supportive husband—also her high school sweetheart. She hopes to one day have two children of her own.

“I really wanted a big family,” Shylisa says, and she grew up with three siblings. “I love kids . . . especially to make them feel better when they’re sick.” She currently treats children and families in their homes. “I just fell in love with it,” Shylisa says.

Shylisa plans to obtain a doctoral degree and become a certified Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE). “Somebody has to do it,” she says. “I want it to be me….I’ve had a rough life myself.”

“It’s been a bumpy road, but I love it,” Shylisa says of her nursing education. She is excited for the future, and she intends to go back to school to become a Nurse Practitioner, eventually going on to establish a pediatric clinic.

Runner-up, Sandrine Nankap

Now living in Winchester, Virginia, where she attends Shenandoah University, Sandrine Nankap grew up in Cameroon, on the West coast of Africa. Hundreds of people in her country live in poverty and die of AIDS due to lack of knowledge and resources, she says. Though she volunteered with children and teens to teach them about HIV/AIDS prevention, Sandrine wanted to do more.

The fourth of seven children, Sandrine says her parents could only afford to send one of them to school. “They put all their money on me,” she says. “They did their best to encourage me in everything I wanted to do.” In her culture only men are thought to deserve schooling, to lead a family, Sandrine says. “I had a lot of pressure to be a successful woman.”

Ranked high in her secondary school class, Sandrine wanted to educate others and make a difference in their lives, so she went to nursing school, graduating in 2004. In 2008 she was “blessed with the opportunity to come to America,” hoping to become a nurse educator, combining two professions in which she believed strongly.

But upon arriving in America, Sandrine found she did not have enough money to support the continuing education needed and her two young children. “As a single mom, I started to work as a coffee maker at Dunkin Donuts for almost one year.” She was promoted to assistant manager. “Working with that company, I kept some money that allowed me to go for my nursing assistant training.”

Within two months, Sandrine took a job as a nurse assistant. It was one of her lucky breaks, she says. The other nurses counseled her, taught her. “They helped me achieve my dreams,” she says. “I passed [the NCLEX] on the first try and today, after all this struggle and tears, I am proud to be a registered nurse.” She still wants to become a nurse educator, teaching both in the United States and Cameroon.

In five years, she’ll be pursuing her doctorate, Sandrine says, and she’s starting her master’s course work next year. “I like to learn. I love knowledge,” she says in a soft yet steady voice. “I worked so hard for everything that I have….I have a lot of ambition.”

Sandrine says she wants to send her younger siblings to schools as well. She sends them whatever money she can so they can come to America too. Sandrine also wants to return to Cameroon to help other young women become nurses. “I’m really grateful for this opportunity to be what I want to be in life,” she says.

Runner-up, Cerilene Small

“Every morning I wake up and begin my daily rituals of feeling the left region of my face,” says Cerilene Small. She keeps her eyes shut, afraid she will open them and be unable to see. It’s happened in the past, and because she has multiple sclerosis, it could happen again. Cerilene was diagnosed in 2009.

A competitive African dancer, Cerilene first knew something was wrong when she lost feeling in her body—but her mother thought it was due to her dancing all night. Then, after months of inconclusive tests, she learned she had MS.

“It was really hard” going into senior year, Cerilene says. She was scared of going anywhere, hopeful but cautious of what her future might hold. Originally from Brooklyn, Cerilene applied to New York University undecided, but after spending a month in the hospital, she says she realized she wanted to become a nurse. “My nurses really had a strong impact on my recovery,” Cerilenesays—so much so that she redid her college applications.

Now enrolled at NYU, Cerilene started classes in February 2011, and she had her first MS “flare up” not long after. She says she has about one flare-up each semester, but she’s trying and adjusting to the effects of a new treatment.

Being an honors student, a high school valedictorian, and a first-generation student, they all pale in comparison, Cerilene says, to being able to take advantage of every day “as a leader.” She mentors other first-generation students and one day hopes to open a youth health center offering free clinical services. She aspires to pursue a five-year dual degree (B.S.N./M.S.N.) in pediatric nursing.

Become familiar with the population you want to serve, Cerilene advises soon-to-be nurses. “Try to get involved before clinicals.” Know that the work is hard, but learn to “be a leader on your own.” After that, just “have faith,” she says. “You’ll do fine.”

Double Minority: Mental Health Attitudes and Discrimination in Nursing

Double Minority: Mental Health Attitudes and Discrimination in Nursing

The end of the year was dreamlike. Not only was I accepted into an accelerated nursing program, the school also selected me as a recipient for a prestigious scholarship award. The honor of being among an elite group chosen to represent the ideal future “face” of nursing leadership was an incredible sensation. But those exciting days quickly spiraled into a nightmare.

Many of us belonging to ethnic and racial groups experience disturbingly disparate health, educational, and economic outcomes, and we have committed ourselves passionately to improving the well-being and quality of life of individuals from populations from which we ourselves are drawn.

My faculty advisor for the scholarship program was so impressed with my curriculum vitae and scholarship application essay that she strongly encouraged me to pursue scheduling a meeting with the director of the Ph.D. program to discuss a seamless progression from a B.S. to an M.S.N. to a Ph.D. One week later, I met with my faculty advisor again to discuss some initial temporary feelings of anxiety I had about the program. I sought to proactively inquire about accessing resources and strategies to succeed in the program, with my diagnosis of depression and anxiety disorder. The next day, in a meeting with my advisor and one of the school’s deans, I was urged to voluntarily withdraw my admission and cancel my acceptance.

The experience was unfathomable; literally within a week, I went from being encouraged to complete all levels of nursing education at the school to being told “this is a very intense program,” “we want you to be well,” “there are other seconddegree programs,” and “when one opportunity closes another opens.” A week after the scholarship orientation and on the fourth day of classes, they concluded that I lacked the emotional fortitude to handle the rigors of the intense, accelerated program. Additionally, when I called several weeks later to honor my end of the scholarship contract with the organization, I was informed that the school had already contacted the organization the day after my withdrawal and requested that the scholarship funds be given to another fi nalist. Along with the frustration inherent in the situation, I was very disappointed with the enduring stigma of mental illness, so pervasive that my health condition superseded the accomplishments that resulted in my selection as a prestigious scholar.

About a month after the experience, I traveled overseas for a service mission trip. An uncanny experience served to maintain my resolute desire to be a nurse, in spite of the indignant and vilifying event.

As the service team of approximately 60 volunteers waited to begin our five-day service mission, the warm community residents greeted us individually. One young girl caught my attention, as she was wearing a bright pink shirt, decorated with the word “princess” (printed in English) and a rhinestone-studded tiara. It reminded me of something I would have worn at her age. Speaking in Spanish, I said, “I really like your shirt.” She tilted her head, her eyes downcast. Her facial expression indicated that she heard me, but she didn’t respond to my compliment. I then proceeded to tell her how pretty it was and called her Princess. Again, I received no response and little eye contact. I finally asked her if she understood me, as I didn’t rule out the possibility that my Spanish was rustier than I realized, but she answered “yes.”

When I walked off I watched the young girl and noticed she was aloof from the other girls and women who were waiting to enter the clinic area. I had two initial thoughts: first, this young girl needs to see a provider and feels shame or embarrassment, or she is extremely shy. Several hours into the afternoon, I saw her again and asked her age. She clearly responded with her head lifted, making eye contact: “16.” Then she became reticent to speak again, and I watched her from a distance and noticed that she remained aloof.

I asked one of the missionaries of a partnering organization about the average age of parity and the familial structure. He said couples are usually partnered anywhere from 12 years to adulthood. I asked our pharmacy manager if we had pregnancy tests. We didn’t.

I saw the Princess again for the third time in the late afternoon but didn’t find an appropriate opportunity to speak with her in an inconspicuous manner. The next day, I spoke with the pediatrician about my assumption, and when I spotted the young lady, I discreetly pointed her out. My hope was that she could be examined and referred to the permanent clinic, about a 30–40 minute walk, to receive the care I believed she needed. A few minutes prior to leaving for my service project worksite, I greeted her with a wave and a smile and it was reciprocated with a partial wave and smile. The next day, I discovered that a teenage girl was seen by one of our providers and that she indeed thought she might be pregnant but was afraid her mother was unaware of her potential pregnancy.

I shared my experience with my student mentor assigned to me at the time of my admission offer to the scholarship program. She expressed her concern about the information I revealed and reasoned that as a black female ostensibly entering a predominately white women’s profession, disclosing my mental health condition might not have been the action of my better judgment. I respectfully, wholeheartedly disagree.

Not only does concealment fuel stigma, but carrying this unnecessary burden hinders one’s ability to achieve a complete and whole state of wellness. Additionally, I candidly shared with her that my father was a physician, trained in the ’70s, who labored under the stigma and shame of his depression for 30 years, unbeknownst to most of his colleagues. Out of fear of losing his medical license and the respect of his colleagues, he concealed his illness and failed to receive the appropriate level of treatment he needed during a crisis episode. As a result, his lifelong battle with depression ended in suicide. His family, friends, colleagues, fellow community members, and former patients were absolutely devastated and angry that he never reached out for adequate help.

My very considerate and compassionate student mentor addressed a relevant and poignant concern, one I also believe has been inadequately examined in society: in a country that professes a desire for diversity, but where racial prejudice still exists and opportunities to render a racial/ ethnic minority as incompetent can be exploited, how does one handle a having a mental illness?

While this question should by no means be ignored, I’ve debated my decision to disclose my mental health history and the physical manifestations that I experienced. My conclusion? I unequivocally have no regrets. One of the main roles of a nurse is to be a patient advocate. I believe that if I can effectively advocate for myself, I’m well qualifi ed to be a uniquely effective advocate for a patient.

Finally, to my father, I’m so very proud of you for dedicating your life, service, and passions to helping others, even as you did your best to address your own struggles and challenges. Thank you for giving me the resiliency and courage to pursue my passions and dreams amidst obstacles and adversity. I love you.

If you are struggling with depression and/or anxiety, we encourage you visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness website at or the National Institute of Mental Health at

D.N.P.s and Ph.D.s: Your Questions Answered

There’s no sugarcoating it: pursuing a doctoral degree is tough. Balancing a clinical job with classes and homework—not to mention family time and your social life—takes determination and sacrifice. But if you’re prepared for the challenge, that hard-won degree may be the best investment of your life.

That intimidating introduction aside, keep in mind that hundreds of nurses proudly graduate with a Doctor of Nursing Practice (D.N.P.) or another doctoral degree every year. So what does a D.N.P. program really entail? We asked two experts some common questions surrounding doctoral study, from the admission process to program requirements. Both doctoral-prepared nurses, they can speak to their personal experiences as they now guide other nurses as university administrators.

Q. D.N.P. or Ph.D.: How should nurses choose between them?

TORRES: Ph.D. and D.N.P. programs differ both in their goals and in the competencies of their graduates. The decision to pursue a D.N.P. or Ph.D. depends on your career goals. While a Ph.D. student generates and develops new knowledge, a D.N.P. student translates research already done, evaluates it to see if it works for a specific problem or project, and then puts it into practice.

Ph.D. programs focus heavily on scientific content and research methodology, so if you want to be a nurse scientist/scholar with a research-centric career, you should pursue a Ph.D. The D.N.P. is designed for nurses seeking a terminal degree in nursing practice and offers an alternative to research-focused doctoral programs.

Generally, a D.N.P. is the choice for Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Practitioners, Clinical Nurse Specialists, or Nurse Midwives) or nurses in other areas of specialized nursing practice (nursing administration, informatics, public health) who want to continue practicing in their area of expertise and are interested in gaining advanced knowledge and skills.

In recent years, there has been a growing demand for D.N.P. programs and degrees. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), currently there are 153 D.N.P. programs, and between 2009 and 2010, the number of students enrolled in these programs increased from 5,165 to 7,034. In the same period, the number of nurses graduating with a D.N.P. doubled.

RODRIGUES FISHER: The increasing need for practitioners with D.N.P.s stems, in part, from hospitals and health systems looking for skilled nurses who can provide primary care to many people and, in particular, to those in low-income communities. There is also a move to increase the number of Latino and African American nurses who have advanced practice degrees because patients want primary care providers who have the same understanding of cultural beliefs and health care issues.

In order to determine which advanced degree is best for you, it’s important to decide if you want to continue practicing or if you wish to pursue research and teaching.

TORRES: Rather than concentrating on dissertations or research, D.N.P. programs help nurses build upon their current practice, learn new skills, and conduct applied research. Many doctoral students also find great value in completing a project that they can readily apply in practice.

Q. How should nurses prepare for the doctoral program application process?

RODRIGUES FISHER: Start by brushing up on your writing, language, and math skills. They will serve you well. In my personal experience, because English is not my first language, it was important for me to study and brush up on my writing and math skills. I struggled until a professor in my master’s program recommended I take an English course; it was truly the best decision I could have made. After bolstering my language and writing abilities, I felt prepared to take the GRE for my doctoral program.

You should also generate a list of organizations you support, either as a member or otherwise. For example, if you participated in a fundraiser for the American Heart Association or did something to engage members of your community to encourage minority students to continue their education, be certain to list those activities in your application. If you are out in your community doing good deeds, institutions will recognize you as someone who would represent them well.

Make sure someone else reviews your application before you send it in! It’s important to submit a polished application. It should shine a light on you and your achievements, but any mistakes will be blinding.

TORRES: Some schools require Ph.D. and D.N.P. applicants to write an essay about why they want to earn a doctoral degree, what their career goals are, and what they hope to accomplish with the degree. The essay needs to be well-written, with no spelling errors and good grammatical structure.

Many doctoral programs also request written references. Be especially careful who you ask to provide a reference—preferably it should be someone in your area of practice or a faculty member who teaches in that area—and make sure they know you well. Check with the institution if you have any questions about the application or the process.

Q. What are admission counselors looking for in nurses’ applications?

TORRES: Counselors evaluate applications based on a variety of factors, including academic record, essays, and prior experience. Requirements may include a master’s degree or its equivalent, a 3.0 minimum GPA in that master’s program, an active R.N. license, two or more professional references, and official transcripts of highest course work completed, plus the completed application and fee.

RODRIGUES FISHER: Yet, it’s not just about the applicant’s individual grades. Admission counselors look at the whole person, and they want people with broad, varied experiences.

Some questions admission counselors will be asking themselves as they review applications are “What have they done?” “What committees have they served on either in their community or in their health care facility?” and “Have they demonstrated they will be successful in the program?” It’s important to list all activities and committees you are involved in and specifically what your role was on those committees.

TORRES: Doctoral programs may also prefer (or require) a number of years of professional nursing experience. International students may need to demonstrate equivalency via an additional evaluation from the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS).

The D.N.P. requires 1,000 post-bachelor’s clinical hours, of which 500 must be at the D.N.P. level. Admission counselors will obtain information on how many clinical hours the entering students had in their master’s program.

Q. What does the typical doctoral program entail?

TORRES: A typical D.N.P. program is developed based on AACN’s The Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Nursing Practice and covers both course work and clinical hours. The publication outlines the curricular elements and competencies that must be present in programs conferring the Doctor of Nursing Practice.

Doctoral course work is very rigorous. Time management is important, and you will need to closely examine how you are going to complete the course work and use your time to your advantage.

An integral part of the D.N.P. program is the final D.N.P. project, which is usually based on an issue or problem at the student’s institution or facility. It’s important for students to work closely with their schools to ensure the institution supports the project’s implementation. During this project, the student will typically accrue the practicum hours needed. In some ways, the D.N.P. project is similar to a dissertation since it requires approval of the Institutional Review Board (IRB) and includes a committee to guide the project.

RODRIGUES FISHER: All doctoral programs require a lot of reading and library research. Once you get through your core course work, it will be important to identify your research area and possible mentors. One additional piece of advice: focus your course work in the direction of your research.

Q. How might doctoral course work impact a working nurse’s personal life?

RODRIGUES FISHER: Going back to school to pursue your doctorate will definitely impact your personal life. I worked full time, went to school, and had a family to take care of, but the great support from my family made it all possible. My husband made sure the children were taken care of and the housework was done. The house wasn’t always as clean as it could be, and I missed some of my children’s games, but because of the partnership with my husband, we made it work.

TORRES: Before you start a doctoral program, talk with your family so they understand what’s involved, how it may impact them, and how they can help you succeed. You will soon discover how many courses you can manage at a time and whether you can handle a full- or part-time commitment, based on your family, work, and other commitments.

Online programs typically offer nurses more flexibility to work their classes around individual schedules. But even if the delivery method is online, course work still takes time, and doctoral students quickly realize they won’t be able to continue to do all they were doing before deciding to pursue a doctorate. On average, each course is a minimum of 15 hours of work per week.

RODRIGUES FISHER: They say if you educate a woman, you educate a family, and I believe this to be true. Yes, going back to pursue my doctorate took away from some of the other things in my life, but my children benefited as they saw me working hard to achieve what I wanted, both for myself and our family. I was proud to be that kind of role model for them. Work hard and you will be rewarded.

Q. How will a nurse’s duties change after obtaining his or her D.N.P.?

TORRES: Most nurses pursue their D.N.P. because they want to advance in their careers and increase their income. According to the 2009 salary survey conducted by ADVANCE for Nurse Practitioners magazine, D.N.P.-prepared NPs earned $7,688 more than master’s-prepared NPs.

Many graduates move into a new job or position where they can use the skills they learned while acquiring their D.N.P. Others decide to take on additional responsibilities in their current jobs or go into teaching.

RODRIGUES FISHER: The biggest change is more responsibility. As a nurse with a D.N.P., you will be put into leadership positions supervising other nurses. You will also have a more familiar relationship with physicians at your facility. In short, a D.N.P. means increased opportunity.

Q. What do you think about the AACN’s push to have nurses earn a D.N.P.?

TORRES: I support the movement toward the D.N.P. In the transition to the D.N.P., nursing is moving in the direction of other health professions such as medicine (M.D.), dentistry (D.D.S.), pharmacy (Pharm.D.), psychology (Psy.D.), physical therapy (D.P.T.), and audiology (Aud.D.) to provide their professionals with a practice-oriented degree. Nursing is advocating having more nurses obtain their D.N.P., so we are headed in the right direction. In fact, the AACN membership approved a target goal for transition of Advanced Practice Registered Nurse programs to the D.N.P. by 2015.

RODRIGUES FISHER: It’s not just a push from the AACN, but also from the Institute of Medicine to have more educated nurses out there to deliver needed health care to the nation. We are an aging population that is living longer and needs more care. However, with a shortage of health care providers, we need to have nurses who are prepared to practice, are well educated, and can work in a colloquial role with physicians.

Many nurses who choose Walden University do so to advance their careers and become better practitioners. Colleges and universities are looking to develop lifelong learning programs, such as associate to master’s programs and B.S.N. to D.N.P. programs, in order to quickly meet the increased and growing demand for more educated nurses.

Q. What advice do you have for nurses debating whether or not they should pursue a doctorate?

RODRIGUES FISHER: My number one piece of advice is to think about what you are willing to give up for a short period of time in order to pursue your doctorate. I had to give up some of my personal and family time to advance my education and career. For me, the end results—making contributions in the quality and delivery of care and giving patients the best health services they can receive—are truly worth it.

TORRES: Know your career goals, assess your personal life, and identify your passion. Where are you in your career, and what do you want to do? Do you want to concentrate on research and academia, or do you wish to advance your practice?

Timing is everything, so ask yourself: Is this the right time in my life to do this? If not now, when?

Leadership in Style

Leadership in Style

Rowena Elliott, Ph.D., R.N., C.N.N., B.C., C.N.E., is one of those people who make it all seem effortless. She balances teaching and mentoring with research projects and speaking engagements. She has a handful of degress and has held the title of “Director of Nursing” at least twice—it’s hard to keep track. She also has a collection of faculty, nurse, and student of the year awards from a number of organizations, and she was named a Gates Millennium Scholar in 2000. Add to that dozens of ancillary committees.

Yet, it’s her brand-new role as president of the American Nephrology Nurses Association that has people talking. In a time when there seem to be so few “firsts,” Elliott is the first African American to hold the position. And for anyone who believes educators are, or should be, community leaders, her life is a case study of both. “She has been so determined in her professional career and volunteer leadership roles, accomplishing so much,” says Loretta Jackson Brown, Ph.D.-C., R.N., C.N.N. Brown served on the ANNA Board of Directors with Elliott from 2008–2010, where they together made history as two minorities in leadership roles within the organization. Outside the ANNA, Brown is a clinician health communicator with McKing Consulting and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “She is dedicated to improving the statue of others, to including her nursing students, nephrology nurses, nurses in Mississippi, where she is an active member and leader for Mississippi Nurses Association, and many others.

“Often times people think that a leader of her rank perhaps is unapproachable and not in touch with the real members,” Brown says. “Dr. Elliott can often be found mingling with the members. She is inconspicuous and doesn’t draw attention to the fact that she is the most powerful person in the room.”

A girl from Chicago

Elliott speaks excitedly, quickly, about her life and years leading up to being elected president of the ANNA.

Born and raised in Chicago, Elliott is the second of 10 children, an even split of boys and girls. “I grew up in a household where we didn’t have a lot,” she says. “We were poor.” Elliott says she is fortunate that all of her siblings are still alive, as well as her mother, though her father passed away over a decade ago.

Elliott’s parents, who both left high school before their senior year, instilled in their children a reverence for education. They knew it would lead to a better life and exponentially more opportunities. Through education, they could achieve anything. Elliott took their advice to heart, and now holds three degrees and has been teaching since 1998. Married with two children and two grandchildren of her own, Elliott says, “I try to instill the same thing in them.”

Elliott graduated from nursing school in 1982. She wanted to become a CRNA immediately, but marriage and children postponed her plans. “Life happens,” she says. Fifteen years later, she went back to school for her master’s degree.

“I’ve done a little bit of everything,” Elliott says. As clinical nurses often do in small hospitals, “We did it all.” Juggling the responsibilities taught her to think on her feet, to move quickly, and to not be afraid.

Eventually, Elliott moved into long-term care, but she says it wasn’t her niche. She was looking for new job opportunities when she saw the hemodialysis unit in her hospital needed a director. Elliott applied, even though she couldn’t remember much about dialysis from nursing school. “I probably wouldn’t even recognize a dialysis machine!” she says with a burst of girlish laughter.

To her surprise, Elliott got the job and had a great teacher to guide her through. She says she learned how to prioritize and do things right the first time. “No shortcuts,” she says, suddenly serious. Now she shares the same advice, plus 30 years of lived experience, with her students.

For three or four years, Elliott ran the dialysis unit, and throughout that time, she heard her colleagues say she should become a nurse educator. “I never really thought about being a teacher,” Elliott says. “But I thought, ‘I have the gift to do this.'”

In 1998, she started teaching at Alcorn State University School of Nursing in Natchez, Mississippi. She moved on to her alma mater, the University of Mississippi, in 2001. The entrepreneurial bug bit her in 2005, and Elliott started her own legal nurse consultant business, but the novelty of the business side of nursing eventually wore off. “I started missing my calling,” she says. She belonged in a classroom. So she took a position at the University of Southern Mississippi in 2008, where she teaches today. Elliott is passionate about guiding and being a role model to others, particularly minority nurses and nephrology nurses. She says it plainly: “I love my students.”


As medical director, Elliott required her staff nurses to join the American Nephrology Nurses Association (ANNA), starting a relationship with the organization that has seen her rise through the ranks, from state to regional to national officer and now president.

Elliott, bottom left, and her family in Chicago, circa 1968Elliott, bottom left, and her family in Chicago, circa 1968

At one point, Elliott ran for ANNA national secretary, but lost. She says the election taught her a lot, and when she came back stronger and more prepared, she won the position. Six years later, she was elected president, and on March 29, 2011, she was officially sworn in. “My brother actually calls me Dr. Ro-bama,” she says, again laughing through her words.

“Rowena is very energetic, outgoing, and stylish,” says Sharon Longton, R.N., B.S.N., C.N.N., C.C.T.C., a data manager and transplant coordinator at Harper University Hospital in Detroit. The two met when Elliott joined the ANNA’s Board of Directors as National Secretary. “She works tirelessly to achieve her goals and the goals of the organization. Her personality and laughter draw others in and makes them feel like they belong,” Longton says. “She always recognizes others for what they do, no matter how small or big their contribution may be.

“I also admire Rowena’s style,” Longton says. “Ro loves shoes and Paris. It seems as though she has shoes in almost every color and style available. Her love is so significant that if you were to look closely on the cover of ANNA’s 2011 Fall Meeting program brochure, you will notice a pair of red high heels near the base of a street lamp. These were included in the picture as a subtle representation of something for Rowena. And what can I say about Paris other than it shows how classy and intelligent Rowena is.”

Being a “first”

“I get teary,” Elliott says, less than a month before the swearing-in ceremony. “When I think about it—” Her voice falters and she stops for a minute.

“I’ve come from a family where we had nothing to being the first African American president of this organization,” she continues.

“I do remember when I was a preteen that I had to sit in the ‘blacks only’ section of the local health clinic,” Elliott says. “To go from that to being the first African American to lead this organization is surreal but also warms my heart.”

Although Elliott celebrates her achievement, she does not dwell on it because it’s a part of a greater plan, she says. “I know God wants this position to be an opportunity to let other nurses and nursing students to know that no matter the obstacles and challenges that life brings, your dreams can definitely become realities.”

For Elliott, the role is more meaningful because she’s showing other minority nurses that they can do it too. “If you see something you want to change, you can change it,” she says.

Being the ANNA president was not a lifelong dream for Elliott, she says, but when she saw that Board of Directors, she felt that she just needed to be there. “[They] did not reflect the membership,” she says. Elliott remembers looking at the ANNA’s Board of Directors and asking the then president, “How do you get up there?”

For Elliott, it’s a simple matter of equal representation. “The amount of minorities does not reflect the population that we serve,” she says of the ANNA and her specialty. When you look at the patients nephrology nurses serve, they’re primarily African Americans who experience grossly disproportionate numbers of hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes, which lead to kidney problems and renal replacement. As ANNA president, Elliott wants to increase the number of all minority nephrology nurses, while boosting the number of nephrology nurses in general. “That’s been one of my goals,” she says, and she already has experience, having served on recruitment committees as a university faculty member.

Elliott, center, with two of her mentees at the Mississippi Nurses Association’s Nightingale Award ceremonyElliott, center, with two of her mentees at the Mississippi Nurses Association’s Nightingale Award ceremony

“If you want to make a change, don’t complain about it—take the steps,” Elliott says. “Make the change that you’re trying to see.”

Recruiting is about creating awareness and highlighting the benefits of this niche nursing specialty to make it an appealing path for future generations of nurses, Elliott says. Part of the effort is advocacy and speaking out. Let people know you’re there. Elliott presents at symposiums and writes about the subject at length, detailing solutions for recruitment. She recently spoke at a National Student Nurses Association event to discuss nephrology as a career path. “A lot of them didn’t even realize it was an option,” she says.

Elliott says she sees a lot of nursing students go into the ICU, women’s health, and emergency nursing—the well known specialties shown, and often idealized, on television and in movies. Nephrology needs to take a similar tact, Elliott says, but because getting it into the movies may be a challenge, it’s up to the nurses. “Our specialty is a great specialty. It’s very rewarding and exciting,” she says. “We need to make sure our name is out there.”

Elliott, or “Dr. E.” as she’s known at school, estimates two or three of her students go into nephrology nursing every year. The students tell her they chose the specialty because of the passion she expresses for it in her teaching.

“Her dynamic personality allows her to [be] interactive with individuals across all racial and ethnic groups,” Brown says. “She is infectious in her presentation and you truly are motivated to go out and accomplish more once you hear her speak…She truly epitomizes leadership excellence and encourages the hearts of others.”

Elliott hopes history will remember her for her leadership, not just as the first black ANNA president. “It’s truly an honor. I don’t have the words to express it,” she says. “But I’m ready for the work.”

Elliott credits her parents for always encouraging her to do better, to be better. “I know I’m making history,” she says. “I’m proud.”

“She is just what ANNA needs at this time,” says Donna Painter, M.S., R.N., C.N.N., the exiting ANNA President. “I know that ANNA will thrive.”

Always the teacher, Elliott hopes the next generation of nurses can learn from her nearly three decades in the profession. “Don’t settle,” she advises. “Don’t settle for anything in your personal life. Don’t settle for anything in your professional life.” If you dream about being a nurse educator, press forward until you become a nurse educator. “Stay focused on your goals and make the sacrifices,” she says. “Keep your eyes on the prize.”

And that never goes out of fashion.

Preserving the History of Black Nurses

The year 2012 marks the 50th anniversary for graduates of the Class of 1962. You’ll often hear graduates say, “We’ve made it!” to celebrate their accomplishments over the years. Yet, some graduates move through life never realizing the “it” they have made is of historical significance. The 1,700 graduates of the Freedmen’s Hospital School of Nursing indeed left their mark on the world, and each individual’s contributions should be preserved to inspire generations unborn.

A bit of history

The graduates of Freedmen’s Hospital School of Nursing (FHSN), and Howard University (HU), share an inimitable history honoring blacks in nursing, including African Americans and people of the African diaspora. This relationship was established under the direction of the United States federal government. The purpose was to train black nurses to care for freed slaves around the city of Washington, D.C.

Howard University Training School for Nurses (HUTSN) was established in 1893 and transitioned to Freedmen’s Hospital School of Nursing in 1894. Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, the first interracial U.S. surgeon, founded the Freedmen’s Hospital School of Nursing in 1894. (Incidentally, Dr. Williams also founded the first U.S. interracial hospital, Provident.) All of the esteemed faculty were master’s prepared in nursing, most graduates of Freedmen’s themselves, and with numerous achievements between them. It remained a “cooperating institution,” awarding approximately 1,587 diplomas to nurses, until its close in the early 1970s.

Freedman’s Hospital was directly linked to the post–Civil War federal Freedmen’s Bureau, established to provide emergency medical care to the many former slaves settling around the capital. Congress eventually transferred the Freedmen’s Hospital School of Nursing to Howard University in 1967. The School of Nursing was phased out not long after, admitting its last class in 1970, graduating them in 1973. From 1974 to present, Howard University has awarded the Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

Here we document the history of this relationship and the contributions of some alumnae to inspire future generations to new levels of success.

Notable alumnae

Fifty years ago, 35 graduates of Freedmen’s Hospital School of Nursing, in cooperation with Howard University, began their journey in nursing. They made, and continue to make, a profound impact on the history of black nurses and the profession of nursing. The historical significance of these 33 black women and two men is collected here to honor the graduates.

The Howard University 1962 yearbook, The Bison, has names, pictures, and documentation of those who received diplomas. It is one of the few printed works and testaments to the individuals who made and continue to help preserve the earlier history of black nurses. Some stories of the students, staff, and faculty members have been recorded and rewarded, and other contributions have yet to be immortalized.

Mary Elizabeth Carnegie

“In 1893, Howard University in Washington, D.C., established the first nursing program in a university setting—16 years before the similar and flagship program began at the University of Minnesota,” wrote Mary Elizabeth Carnegie in her 1986 publication The Path We Tread: Blacks in Nursing, 1854–1984. Dr. Carnegie cited the relationship between Howard University and Freedmen’s to exemplify how black nurses and their impact in health care had been ignored. Her contribution to that legacy was to publish a comprehensive history of black nurses. Much of Dr. Carnegie’s work features the life experiences of graduates from Freedmen’s Hospital School of Nursing and Howard University. One such experience was the Chi Eta Phi Sorority, Inc., a national sorority of registered professional nurses and nursing students. This organization was incorporated by Freedmen’s graduates and physicians of the Freedmen’s Hospital/Howard University complex. Dr. Carnegie, in her writing, acknowledges the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University, and Joyce Elmore in helping her preserve the history of black nurses.

Joyce Ann Elmore (Archer), R.N., B.S.N., M.S.N., Ph.D.

One of Dr. Carnegie’s compatriots in nursing, Joyce Ann Elmore, R.N., B.S.N., M.S.N., Ph.D., graduated from Freedmen’s Hospital School of Nursing in 1958. In 1965, Joyce wrote an unpublished master’s dissertation, A History of Freedmen’s Hospital Training School for Nurses in Washington, D.C. 1894–1909. She published “Black Nurses: Their Service and Their Struggles” for the American Journal of Nursing in 1976. In 1990, Joyce worked to establish the M. Elizabeth Carnegie Endowed Chair at Howard University’s College of Nursing.

Dr. Elmore’s contributions to medicine and the nursing profession varied greatly, but her dedication to the profession of nursing remained the same. She began her career as an administrative assistant to the director of the audio/visual aid section at Howard University’s College of Medicine. Dr. Elmore then served as the Assistant Director of Nursing Education at FHSN. In addition to those positions, the years saw her doing consulting work at Howard University; serving as the Director of the American Nurses Association Department of Nursing Education; working at the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C.; teaching as an adjunct nursing professor; and much more. Some of her many honors and awards include a 1973 Community Service Award for Outstanding Service to District of Columbia; a 1980 Commendation Medal from the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps for Exemplary Performance of Duty; and countless other awards commemorating her nursing practice, community service, and research. Howard University hosted a dinner gala in 2006 to further honor Dr. Elmore’s life and work.

Dr. Joyce Ann Elmore Archer, as a lifelong member of the Freedmen’s Hospital Nurse’s Alumni Club, Inc., worked with other alumni to make, write, and preserve the historical contributions of graduates from FHSN and HU, and of black nurses everywhere. She retired as an 06, having served commendably in the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Coast Guard, and U.S. Public Health Commissioned Corps. Ida C. Robinson, a mentor and coworker, says Joyce was a phenomenal person who set an example for all to emulate. Dr. Elmore’s lifeworks ended with her death on June 15, 2009.

Ida C. Robinson, R.N., M.S.N.

The life story of Ida C. Robinson, R.N., M.S.N., would be incomplete without details of her many contributions in creating and preserving history of the Freedmen’s Hospital School of Nursing. Mrs. Robinson was the Director of Nursing Education at FHSN when the nursing program transitioned to Howard University in June 1973. In this position Mrs. Robinson suggested “a directory of all graduates would be beneficial for historical reasons, as well as provide valuable information and service the alumni.” On April 19, 1971, Staff Assistant Iris L. Morton Fagan and others began a manual audit of 2,307 files, which was completed on June 12, 1972. Mrs. Robinson’s thoughts and deeds were always focused on preserving history. She continues to do so working with the Freedmen’s Hospital Nurses Alumni Club, Inc., and Howard University. She is 92 years old. In 2010, Mrs. Robinson was awarded the Doctorate of Humane Letters by The Catholic University of America.

About the Author

Lawrence C. Washington, R.N., M.S.N.
Colonel, Retired, Army Nurse Corps

It’s a unique occasion when an author’s accomplishments mirror that of his or her subjects. Here we look at the life of the man who sought to keep the memory of this historic class of nurses alive.

A native of Washington, D.C., Lawrence C. Washington earned a diploma in nursing from Freedmen’s Hospital School of Nursing, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from The University of Maryland in Baltimore, and a Master of Science in Nursing from The Catholic University of America, also in Washington, D.C.

Colonel Washington’s health career began in 1954 as a medical aidman with the rank of private, and his active service ended the first time in 1987, as the Acting Chief Nurse of William Beaumont Army Medical Center with the rank of colonel. Highlights of his 27 years of distinguished active military service include many “firsts” of his gender, professional specialty, and ethnicity. Washington was the first male Army Nurse Corps officer to receive a commission in the Regular Army of the United States; the first black male Army Nurse Corps officer to be promoted to the rank of colonel; and the first black male nurse to be selected, attend, and receive certification for residency education at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.

Among his teaching credentials, Washington has served as a clinical instructor and skills supervisor in psychiatric nursing for the University Of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio: School Of Nursing; an assistant professor and adjunct faculty member for clinical pediatric nursing at Columbia Union College (now Washington Adventist University); an assistant professor at Howard University College of Pharmacy, Nursing, and Allied Health Sciences (now two separate schools, pharmacy, and nursing and allied health); and an assistant professor at Louisiana State University in New Orleans, among other academic endeavors.

While serving as a commonwealth assistant professor at George Mason University College of Nursing and Health Science, Washington became the program coordinator of the Saudi-U.S. University Project. There he also lectured and provided clinical supervision in health assessment, leadership and management, long-term care, and community-based health promotion and disease prevention. He was also a member of the University’s Americans with Disabilities Act accommodations committee.

Washington’s awards and recognitions include the following: United States Legion of Merit, Three Meritorious Service Medals, Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Army of Occupation Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, Order of Military Medical Merit, and an Expert Field Medical Badge.

He has held membership in The American Nurses Association, American Association of Neuroscience Nurses, American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International, Army Nurses Corps Association, Charter Member of Improvement Science Research Network, American Legion, Military Officers Association of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, and The Society for Organizational Learning.

The summit of Washington’s life is to bear witness to the transformation of the lives of his wife of 53 years; their five children, 11 grandchildren, and four great grandchildren; his students; and himself, as they all move from abecedarians to professionals. “With great pride in his knowledge of God, understanding of his country, and unwavering devotion to duty,” he says. “On the wings of the spirit of service is borne the unselfish commitment to a successful life.”