February is Black History month in the United States and there’s no better time to celebrate African American nurses in our country who have contributed so much to the medical field. From Eddie Bernice Johnson, who turned her love for healing and helping others as a nurse into a career as a politician, creating and contributing to legislation that helps those most in need, to Betty Smith Williams, who co-founded the National Black Nurses Association in 1971 and was the first Black person to teach at the university level in California – and millions in between – history is filled with Black nurses making a significant difference. Below, we’re going to shine the light on a few deserving healers.
Beverly Louise Malone
The eldest of seven, Beverly Louise Malone, PhD, RN, FAAN, is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the National League for Nursing. Beverly has earned a myriad of awards over the years, including Modern Healthcare’s 100 Most Influential People of 2022 – for the third consecutive year. Beverly, who was born in 1948, grew up in a small, segregated town in Kentucky. Despite the challenges of segregation, she studied hard and pursued a higher education, earning her BSN from the University of Cincinnati, the first of many degrees, that included a master’s degree in adult psychiatric nursing from Rutgers University and a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Cincinnati. Beverly has held numerous positions in academia, including Dean of the School of Nursing at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, a historically black university, where she became Vice Chancellor in 1994. In 1996 Malone was elected President of the American Nurses Association (ANA), and in 2000 she was appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary of Health for the United States Department of Health and Human Services by President Bill Clinton.
In 2001, Beverly was appointed to the prestigious post of General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in Great Britain, the largest professional union of nursing staff on the globe.
Sheila Antrum, MHSA
Sheila is the Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at UCSF Health, where she has worked for over two decades. Prior to UCSF, she worked as an intensive care nurse for some of the leading hospitals in the U.S., including Yale University, Johns Hopkins, and the University of Michigan.
In 2012 she received the prestigious Margretta Madden Styles Award, named in honor of the former Dean of School of Nursing at the University of California, San Francisco. Award criteria included leadership within the field of nursing, inspiring others and the ability to empower others.
Ms. Antrum received her Master of Health Services Administration from the University of Michigan School of Public Health in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Hampton University in Virginia.
Eddie Bernice Johnson
Eddie Bernice Johnson is a noteworthy American nurse and politician who represented Texas’s 30th congressional district in the United States House of Representatives from 1993 until 2023 when she retired (her last day was January 3, 2023). Her accomplishments are all the more impressive considering that growing up, she was not allowed to pursue a higher education due to segregation in her home state of Texas at the time. Yet she persevered and attended St. Mary’s College at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, where she earned her nursing certificate. She finished her degree, when it was possible to do so, at Texas Christian University where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in nursing. She eventually attained her Master of Public Administration from Southern Methodist University.
Congresswoman Johnson worked as a nurse at the V.A. Hospital in Dallas, eventually becoming its first female African American Chief Psychiatric Nurse at that location. She remained at the V.A. Hospital for 16 years before changing her career trajectory to politics. In 1972, she became the first nurse to be elected to the Texas State House, but she left this position in 1977 when she was appointed by President Jimmy Carter the Regional Director for the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, the first African American woman to hold this position. In 1986, she became the first nurse elected to the Texas Senate.
As a representative of Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives, Congresswoman Johnson was very successful, and her time included a few ‘firsts,’ including as the first African American and woman to chair the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. And throughout her political career, she has worked against racism.
Betty Smith Williams
After earning her bachelor’s degree from Howard University, Dr. Betty Smith Williams was the first African American nurse to graduate from the nursing school at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) and the first Black person to teach at the college or university level in California when she was hired to teach public health nursing at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Williams is also a co-founder of the National Black Nurses Association (NBNA) and was its president from 1995-1999. She is also a fellow of the American Academy of Nursing, and in 2010, Dr. Williams was recognized by the academy as a living legend, the organization’s highest honor.
Dr. Williams has held many roles in academia. These include a position as Dean at the University of Colorado’s Health Sciences Center, in addition to assistant dean positions at UCLA School of Nursing.
Throughout her career, Dr. Williams has always been a strong advocate of African American nurses, and continues to do so to this day.
To learn about other Black leaders in the nursing field who should be honored for their work and accomplishments, visit: Leaders in Nursing and Medicine To Honor This Black History Month (nurse.org)