Influential Women in Nursing From the Last 10 Years

Influential Women in Nursing From the Last 10 Years

Our list of the most influential women in nursing in the past 10 years highlights the diverse ways that women have made a difference in the healthcare field. Whether through research, driving policy change, or serving as a practicing nurse, these women have improved the lives of countless patients through their work.

Top 10 Women in Nursing From the Last 10 Years

  1. Lauren Underwood
  2. Faye Glenn Abdellah
  3. Madeleine Leininger
  4. Jean Watson
  5. Callista Roy
  6. Marjory Gordon
  7. Loretta Ford
  8. Patricia Flatley Brennan
  9. Ann Burgess
  10. Rachel Robinson

The past ten years have seen incredible innovation and progress in healthcare led by the 91% of nurses who identify as female. Nurses provide services extending far beyond patient care, offering patient education, driving progress for public health, and advocating for the needs of those in their care.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, people worldwide realized the import role that nurses play, and showed their appreciation by making signs and offering encouragement to healthcare professionals. While nurses report feeling more appreciated by society, they are feeling less appreciated by patients, leading to higher levels of stress and anxiety. The American Nursing Association anticipates a shortage of over 100,000 nurses per year beginning in 2022, so encouraging and supporting young nurses is more important than ever.

Nursing has a long history of opening doors for women and providing them with career opportunities at a time when women were rare in the workplace. Despite this track record of openness, in 2011 female nurses were paid an average of $9,600 less than their male counterparts.

Influential Women in Nursing From the Last 10 Years

  1. #1

    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.
  2. #2

    Faye Glenn Abdellah

    1919 - 2017 (98 years)
    Faye Glenn Abdellah was an American pioneer in nursing research. Abdellah was the first nurse and woman to serve as the Deputy Surgeon General of the United States. Preceding her appointment, she served in active duty during the Korean War, where she earned a distinguished ranking equivalent to a Navy Rear Admiral, making her the highest-ranked woman and nurse in the Federal Nursing Services at the time. In addition to these achievements, Abdellah led the formation of the National Institute of Nursing Research at the NIH, and was the founder and first dean of the Graduate School of Nursing at...
  3. #3

    Madeleine Leininger

    1925 - 2012 (87 years)
    Madeleine Leininger was a nursing theorist, nursing professor and developer of the concept of transcultural nursing. First published in 1961, her contributions to nursing theory involve the discussion of what it is to care.
  4. #4

    Jean Watson

    1940 - Present (83 years)
    Jean Watson is an American nurse theorist and nursing professor who is best known for her theory of human caring. She is the author of numerous texts, including Nursing: The Philosophy and Science of Caring. Watson’s research on caring has been incorporated into education and patient care at hundreds of nursing schools and healthcare facilities across the world.
  5. #5

    Callista Roy

    1939 - Present (84 years)
    Sister Callista Roy, CSJ is an American nun, nursing theorist, professor and author. She is known for creating the adaptation model of nursing. She was a nursing professor at Boston College before retiring in 2017. Roy was designated as a 2007 Living Legend by the American Academy of Nursing.
  6. #6

    Marjory Gordon

    1931 - 2015 (84 years)
    Marjory Gordon was a nursing theorist and professor who created a nursing assessment theory known as Gordon’s functional health patterns. Gordon served in 1973 as the first president of the North American Nursing Diagnosis Association until 1988. She was a Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing beginning in 1977 and was designated a Living Legend by the same organization in 2009.
  7. #7

    Loretta Ford

    1920 - Present (103 years)
    Loretta C. Ford is an American nurse and the co-founder of the first nurse practitioner program. Along with pediatrician Henry Silver, Ford started the pediatric nurse practitioner program at the University of Colorado in 1965. In 1972, Ford joined the University of Rochester as founding dean of the nursing school.
  8. #8

    Patricia Flatley Brennan

    1953 - Present (70 years)
    Patricia Flatley Brennan is the director of the National Library of Medicine. Prior to that, she was the Lillian L. Moehlman Bascom Professor, School of Nursing and College of Engineering, at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Brennan received a Master of Science in nursing from the University of Pennsylvania and a Ph.D. in industrial engineering from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She served as chair of University of Wisconsin–Madison College of Engineering’s Department of Industrial Engineering from 2007 to 2010.
  9. #9

    Ann Burgess

    1936 - Present (87 years)
    Ann C. Wolbert Burgess is a researcher whose work has focused on developing ways to assess and treat trauma in rape victims. She is a professor at the William F. Connell School of Nursing at Boston College.
  10. #10

    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...
  11. #11

    Afaf Meleis

    1942 - Present (81 years)
    Afaf Ibrahim Meleis is an Egyptian-American nurse-scientist, researcher, and medical sociologist. She is a Professor of Nursing and Sociology and Dean Emerita at the University of Pennsylvania, where she served from 2002 through 2014. This followed her 34-year tenure as a nursing faculty professor at the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of California, San Francisco .
  12. #12

    Patricia Benner

    1942 - Present (81 years)
    Patricia Sawyer Benner is a nursing theorist, academic and author. She is known for one of her books, From Novice to Expert: Excellence and Power in Clinical Nursing Practice . Benner described the stages of learning and skill acquisition across the careers of nurses, applying the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition to nursing practice. Benner is a professor emerita at the University of California, San Francisco UCSF School of Nursing.
  13. #13

    Margo McCaffery

    Margo McCaffery was an American registered nurse and pioneer of the field of pain management nursing. McCaffery’s oft-quoted definition of pain as “whatever the experiencing person says it is, existing whenever and wherever the person says it does”, stated as early as 1968, has become the prevailing conceptualization of pain for clinicians over the past few decades.
  14. #14

    Nancy Fugate Woods

    Nancy Fugate Woods is emerita professor in Biobehavioral Nursing and Health Informatics at the University of Washington. She previously served as the dean of the University of Washington’s nursing program and as the president of the American Academy of Nursing.
  15. #15

    Patricia Horoho

    1960 - Present (63 years)
    Patricia D. Horoho is a retired United States Army lieutenant general who served as the 43rd Surgeon General of the United States Army and Commanding General of the United States Army Medical Command. She was the second female Nurse Corps officer to hold the title of Army surgeon general but the first to be appointed and hold the position for a full term. In 2016, she was inducted into the United States Army Women’s Foundation Hall of Fame.
  16. #16

    Nola Pender

    1941 - Present (82 years)
    Nola J. Pender is a nursing theorist, author, and academic. She is a professor emerita of nursing at the University of Michigan. She created the Health Promotion Model. She has been designated a Living Legend of the American Academy of Nursing.
  17. #17

    Jane Cummings

    Jane Frances Cummings is a former Chief Nursing Officer for England, formerly at the Department of Health and subsequently at NHS England. In November 2013 she was interviewed about the demand for safe staffing levels in NHS hospitals and told ITV Daybreak: “The most important thing to do is to use evidence to determine what the staffing levels should be. “It’s actually quite dangerous to to suggest that there must be a particular minimum and what we really need to do is to look at the needs of the patients on a particular ward or service and that will vary.“.
  18. #18

    Marie Manthey

    1935 - Present (88 years)
    Marie Schuber Manthey is an American nurse, author, and entrepreneur. She is recognized as one of the originators of Primary Nursing, an innovative system of nursing care delivery. Manthey was named a Living Legend of the American Academy of Nursing in 2015. The Living Legends designation honors individuals with “extraordinary contributions to the nursing profession, sustained over the course of their careers.”
  19. #19

    Judith Shamian

    Judith Shamian is an Irish nurse. She served as president of the International Council of Nurses from 2013-2017. Career She was elected to the position at ICN’s May 2013 Quadrennial Congress in Melbourne, Australia. She was also the president of the Victorian Order of Nurses and the Canadian Nurses Association respectively. She was succeeded as president by Annette Kennedy in 2017.
  20. #20

    Anne Marie Rafferty

    1958 - Present (65 years)
    Dame Anne Marie Rafferty FRCN is a British nurse, academic and researcher. She is professor of nursing policy and former dean of the Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing, Midwifery and Palliative Care at King’s College London. She served as President of the Royal College of Nursing from 2019 to 2021.
  21. #21

    Ruth May

    1967 - Present (56 years)
    Dame Ruth Rosemarie Beverley, , known professionally as Ruth May, is a British nurse. Since 2019, she has served as the Chief Nursing Officer for England and an executive/national director at NHS England and NHS Improvement where she is also the national director responsible for infection prevention and control.
  22. #22

    Marilyn Tavenner

    1951 - Present (72 years)
    Marilyn Barbour Tavenner is an American government official and health-care executive who served as the Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, an agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, from 2011 to 2015.
  23. #23

    Claire Bertschinger

    1953 - Present (70 years)
    Dame Claire Bertschinger, DBE, DL is an Anglo-Swiss nurse and advocate on behalf of suffering people in the developing world. Her work in Ethiopia in 1984 inspired Band Aid and subsequently Live Aid, the biggest relief programme ever mounted. Bertschinger received the Florence Nightingale Medal in 1991 for her work in nursing, and was made a Dame by Queen Elizabeth II in 2010 for “services to Nursing and to International Humanitarian Aid”.
  24. #24

    Kristine Gebbie

    1943 - 2022 (79 years)
    Kristine Elizabeth Moore Gebbie was an American academic and public health official working as a professor at the Flinders University School of Nursing & Midwifery in Adelaide, Australia. Gebbie previously served as the AIDS Policy Coordinator from 1993 to 1994.
  25. #25

    Sally Thorne

    1951 - Present (72 years)
    Sally Elizabeth Thorne PhD, FAAN, FCAHS, RN is a Canadian academic nursing teacher, researcher and author. She researched the human experience of chronic illness and cancer, and qualitative research methodologies including metasynthesis and interpretive description.
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Image Credits:

Top row, left to right: Patricia Hill Collins, Emmanuelle Charpentier, Malala Yousafzai, Shafi Goldwasser, Jennifer Doudna, Fabiola Gianotti, Michiko Kakutani, Lauren Underwood.

Bottom row, left to right: Fei-Fei Li, Esther Duflo, Kathy Reichs, Nancy Fraser, Brené Brown, Judith Curry, Jill Lepore, Zaha Hadid.

Image Attributions