Influential Black Nurses

Influential Black Nurses

Our list of influential Black nurses includes giants in the field of nursing. These leaders in the field are educators, researchers, and practitioners who treat patients while also advocating for diversity in the field of nursing. Their care for patients and their commitment to healthcare reform are paving the way for the next generation of nurses.

Top 10 Black Nurses from the Last 30 Years

  1. Faye Wattleton
  2. Mary Elizabeth Carnegie
  3. Viola Davis Brown
  4. Salaria Kea
  5. Beverly Malone
  6. Bessie Blount Griffin
  7. Clara Leach Adams-Ender
  8. Esther McCready
  9. Opaline Deveraux Wadkins
  10. Thereasea Elder

Find out where the most influential Black scholars and leaders across all fields earned their degree with a look at The Colleges with the Most Influential Black Graduates.

Nursing is a broad field, categorized by their specific responsibilities. Registered nurses perform exams, provide counseling and education, administer medications, and coordinate patient care with other professionals. Advanced practice registered nurses diagnose and treat illnesses, advise the public on health issues, and can, depending on training, administer anesthetics and provide gynecological and obstetrical care. Licensed practical nurses check vital signs and provide basic nursing care.

In 2017, the National Nursing Workforce Survey was conducted and found that 6.2% of the registered nurses (RNs) in the U.S. were African American. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing has defined strategies for enhancing diversity among the nursing population, including offering mini-grants in conjunction with the NIH for health-initiatives targeted at underrepresented communities, advocating for federal funding for programs committed to increasing diversity in nursing, and providing nursing education opportunities to minority groups.

Black Nurses Making Important Contributions to the Field

Nurses who have earned doctoral degrees are often found teaching and researching in academia, publishing, and providing expert policy advice as members of various private and governmental boards and agencies. Influential Black nurses have contributed to the field of nursing and medical care in profound ways. Below are highlights of the accomplishments of a few of the influential Black nurses in our ranking:

  • Ernest Grant, the current president of the American Nurses Association, is an internationally recognized expert in burn care. In addition to teaching in academic settings, he also has worked with the US military, treated burn victims from the World Trade Center, served on several professional associations, and is the first man to be elected president of the ANA.
  • Beverly Malone is the president of the National League of Nursing, and is committed to increasing diversity in nursing and nursing education. She served as federal deputy assistant secretary for health under Bill Clinton, as has been named as one of the most influential women in healthcare. Her career spans clinical practice (psychiatric nursing), administration, and positions in government.
  • Phyllis Sharps is a professor at the John Hopkins School of Nursing and an administrator for community nurse managed centers in the Baltimore area. She is a prominent researcher in the consequences of Intimate Partner Violence on pregnant women, infants, and small children. She has testified before Congress on health care reform, and is an inductee into the International Nurse Researcher Hall of Fame.

Did you know that there is a constant demand for well-qualified nurses? And as the healthcare sector continues to expand, the demand for nurses is expected to remain high. This makes nursing one of the best jobs of the future.

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The Top Influential Black Nurses

The Black scholars in our list were identified as highly cited and searched people using our machine-powered Influence Ranking algorithm, which produces a numerical score of academic achievements, merits, and citations across Wikipedia, wikidata, Crossref, Semantic Scholar and an ever-growing body of data.

Find out more about our Methodology.

Influence is dynamic, therefore some of the nurses listed are contemporary while others may be more historical figures. In either case, according to our AI, these are the most cited and searched Black nurses over the past 30 years.

List is arranged alphabetically

  1. Clara Leach Adams-Ender

    1939 - Present (84 years)
    Clara Leach Adams-Ender is a retired United States Army officer who served as Chief of the United States Army Nurse Corps from September 1987 to August 1991. She was the first woman to receive her master’s degree in military arts and sciences from the United States Army Command and General Staff College. She is also the first African-American nurse corps officer to graduate from the United States Army War College. When she retired, in 1993, she was serving as commanding officer of Fort Belvoir, in Fairfax County, Virginia. After retirement, in 2001 she published a memoir: My Rise to the Stars...
  2. Karen Bankston

    Adjunct Professor at Northern Kentucky University and Professor Emerita at University of Cincinnati. Bankston has years of experience in leadership, equity, and inclusion. She has also been a social justice activist and an agent of sustainable culture change in both the workplace and in her local community.

  3. Debra J. Barksdale

    Dean of the School of Nursing and Professor in Family and Community Nursing at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Dr. Barksdale was the first Black faculty member to achieve the rank of Full Professor in University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Nursing, where she led both the Family Nurse Practitioner Program and the Doctor of Nursing Practice Program for thirteen years. In 2010, Dr. Barksdale was appointed to the Board of Governors for the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) under the Obama Administration.

    Dr. Barksdale is a Fellow of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, the National League for Nursing Academy of Nursing Education, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Primary Health Care Policy Leadership Program, the Wharton AACN Executive Leadership Program, and the American Academy of Nursing.

  4. Georges C. Benjamin

    1952 - Present (71 years)
    Georges C. Benjamin is an American public health official who has served as Executive Director of the American Public Health Association since 2002, and previously as Secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in the Cabinet of Governor Parris Glendening from 1999 to 2002. He is a member of the National Infrastructure Advisory Council. Benjamin is a Fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration.
  5. Viola Davis Brown

    1936 - 2017 (81 years)
    Viola Davis Brown born in Lexington, Kentucky, was a participant in the civil rights movement with contributions to public health and medical education in Kentucky. Personal life and education Viola Davis is the daughter of Donnie and Mable Davis. Davis married Percy H. Brown on June 29, 1957. Percy and Viola have five children together: Clarence, Michael, Bonnie, Donna, and Linda. In 1959, Mrs. Brown became the first to attend the Nazareth School of Nursing affiliated with St. Joseph Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky. Viola Brown graduated in 1959 and was soon appointed to the position of Sup...
  6. Mary Elizabeth Carnegie

    1916 - 2008 (92 years)
    Mary Elizabeth Carnegie was an educator and author in the field of nursing. Known for breaking down racial barriers, she was the first black nurse to serve as a voting member on the board of a state nursing association. She was later president of the American Academy of Nursing and edited the journal Nursing Research.
  7. Ernestine Tina Cuellar

    Dr. Cuellar earned her nursing degree from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston in 1990. She then went on to obtain her doctorate degree from the University of Texas Medical Branch in 2006. She serves as a Continuing Nursing Education Consultant where she regularly contributes to the Journal of Holistic Nursing. Dr. Cuellar was an Associate Professor and Associate Dean for Student Affairs and Admissions at University of Texas Medical Branch for five years and in the faculty role for seven years. She also served as President of the UTMB School of Nursing Alumni Association.

  8. Thereasea Elder

    1927 - 2021 (94 years)
    Thereasea Delerine “T. D.” Elder was the first African American public health nurse in Charlotte, North Carolina. Early life and education Elder was born Charlotte, North Carolina. She was the sixth child of Booker T. and Odessa Clark. Her father worked as a porter and her mother did domestic work in homes. Elder described her childhood as wonderful, and that her family taught her the value of education and religious faith, which have guided her life and career. From a young age Elder knew what she wanted to do, as a result, when she was a student at West Charlotte High School, Elder began w...
  9. Audwin B. Fletcher

    A 30-year employee of the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Professor of nursing at UMMC for 24 years. Fletcher previously served as the School of Nursing’s Director for Multicultural Affairs. In 2020, Fletcher received the Presidential Award of Honor from 100 Black Men of Jackson, Mississippi, an organization that he was involved in for more than 15 years.

    Fletcher has published extensively, in journals such as Nursing Clinics of North America and the Journal of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care.

  10. Fannie Gaston-Johansson

    1938 - 2023 (85 years)
    Fannie Jean Gaston-Johansson was an American professor of nursing and university distinguished professor at Johns Hopkins University. Gaston-Johansson researched health disparities, pain management, and coping strategies in women breast cancer patients. Gaston-Johansson was the first African-American woman tenured full professor at Johns Hopkins University. She previously served as a dean and full professor at University of Gothenburg and an associate professor at University of Nebraska Medical Center. Gaston-Johansson was named a Living Legend of the American Academy of Nursing in 1995.
  11. Trina L. Gipson-Jones

    Gipson-Jones is an Assistant Professor of Health Science at Stockton University. Her areas of expertise include family nursing, community health, and health disparities research. She received a PhD from Hampton University.

    Gipson-Jones has published in multiple journals including Ethnicity & Health, the The Journal of School Nursing, and the Journal of Transcultural Nursing, among others.

  12. Ernest Grant

    Ernest Grant is an American nurse and educator living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In 2018, he began serving as the 36th president of the American Nurses Association . Notably, he is the first male to serve in this position. One of his goals has been to encourage diversity in nursing. Since being elected, the percentage of male nurses has increased. He also serves as adjunct faculty for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Nursing.
  13. Bessie Blount Griffin

    1914 - 2009 (95 years)
    Bessie Virginia Blount, also known as Bessie Blount Griffin, was a writer, nurse, physical therapist, inventor and forensic scientist. Early life Bessie Blount Griffin was born on November 24, 1914, to George Woodard and Mary Elizabeth. A native of Virginia, Blount was born in the Hickory, Virginia community, in Princess Anne County .
  14. Salaria Kea

    1913 - 1991 (78 years)
    Salaria Kea O’Reilly was an American nurse and desegregation activist who volunteered in both the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War. During the Spanish Civil War she was the only African American nurse working in the Abraham Lincoln Battalion.
  15. Beverly Malone

    1948 - Present (75 years)
    Beverly Louise Malone is the chief executive officer of the National League for Nursing in the United States. Prior to assuming this position in February 2007 she served as general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing in the United Kingdom for six years.
  16. Esther McCready

    1931 - 2020 (89 years)
    Esther McCready was a nurse and teacher who desegregated the University of Maryland School of Nursing in 1950. The case was filed in 1949 in Baltimore City Court by National Association for the Advancement of Colored People lawyers Charles Hamilton Houston and Donald Gaines Murray . After the court sided with the university, the case went to the Maryland Court of Appeals, where it was argued by Houston, Murray, and Thurgood Marshall. The lower court’s ruling was overturned by the Maryland Court of Appeals, and McCready began classes on September 5, 1950. She is in the Maryland Women’s Hall of...
  17. Rachel Robinson

    1922 - Present (101 years)
    Rachel Annetta Robinson is the widow of professional baseball player Jackie Robinson, as well as an American former professor and registered nurse. Life and work Rachel Isum was born in Pasadena, California, and attended Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles, California, and the University of California, Los Angeles . At UCLA, she met Robinson in 1941 prior to his leaving UCLA when his baseball eligibility ran out. She graduated from UCLA on June 1, 1945, with a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Rachel and Robinson married on February 10, 1946, the year before he broke into the big leagues. They...
  18. Phyllis Sharps

    Phyllis Sharps is the Elsie M. Lawler Endowed Chair, associate dean for community programs and initiatives, and a professor emerita at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing. Dr. Sharps is the director for the Center for Community Innovations and Scholarships.

    Her practice and research examine the consequences of intimate partner violence (IPV) among pregnant and parenting women, specifically the effects of IPV on the physical and mental health of pregnant women, infants, and very young children. She has published numerous articles on improving reproductive health and reducing violence among African American women.

  19. Patsy R. Smith

    Patsy R. Smith is an assistant professor at the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences. Smith is the President of the Association of Black Nursing Faculty, as well as a Women in Science Denistry Medicine and Health (WiSDMH) Executive Committee Member. Her research focuses on substance abuse and mental illiness in older adults in vulnerable communities.

  20. Lauren Underwood

    1986 - Present (37 years)
    Lauren Ashley Underwood is an American politician and registered nurse who is a U.S. representative from Illinois’s 14th congressional district as a member of the Democratic Party. Her district, once represented by former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, includes the outer western suburbs of Chicago, including Crystal Lake, Geneva, Oswego, Woodstock, and Yorkville.
  21. Opaline Deveraux Wadkins

    1912 - 2000 (88 years)
    Opaline Deveraux Wadkins organized the first school to train black nurses in Oklahoma City, fought for desegregation of the College of Nursing at the University of Oklahoma and founded the School of Nursing at Langston University. She was the first African American nurse to earn a master’s degree from the University of Oklahoma. She was honored in 1987 by the Oklahoma Public Health Association and inducted into the Oklahoma Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993.
  22. India Walton

    1982 - Present (41 years)
    India B. Walton is an American political activist and nurse. She defeated incumbent Mayor Byron Brown in the Democratic Party primary for the 2021 election for mayor of Buffalo, New York before losing to Brown in the general election where he ran as a write-in candidate.
  23. Faye Wattleton

    1943 - Present (80 years)
    Faye Wattleton is an American reproductive rights activist who was the first African American and the youngest president ever elected of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and the first woman since Margaret Sanger to hold the position. She is currently Co-founder & Director at EeroQ, a quantum computing company. She is best known for her contributions to family planning and reproductive health, and the reproductive rights movement.
  24. Lisa Whitfield-Harris

    Lisa Whitfield-Harris is an associate professor and the Program Director of Community Systems Administration at Thomas Jefferson University. Her research and clinical interests include diversity in nursing and healthcare, health disparities, transcultural nursing, minority student experiences, workplace culture, and social justice.

    Whitfield-Harris has published works in a number of journals, including the Journal of Transcultural Nursing, Association of Black Nursing Faculty, Journal of Nursing Education, and Ethnicity & Health.

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Key Associations for Black Nurses

Featured Image Credits Include:

  • Georges Benjamin, By Christopher Michel from San Francisco, USA - Georges Benjamin, Executive Director, American Public Health Association, CC BY 2.0.
  • Viola Davis Brown, By Ehb1711 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.
  • Clara Leach Adams-Ender, By Russell Roederer - Brigadier General Clara L. Adams-Ender (uncovered), Public Domain.
  • Beverly Malone, By Rodw at the English-language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0.
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Image Attributions