Legacy of the Living Legends: Slackers Need Not Apply

By Shawn Kennedy, editor-in-chief

Earlier this month, I attended the American Academy of Nursing 38th Annual Meeting and Conference. With e-mails flooding my inbox and a full meeting agenda over the next few days, I was thinking of skipping the 2011 Living Legends event that took place on the first evening. Thankfully, an old friend, nurse historian Sandy Lewinson, talked me into going—it was one of the more memorable nursing events I’ve attended.

The academy honors “Living Legends” in recognition of the multiple contributions these nurses have made to the profession and the impact these contributions have made on health care in the United States and abroad. This year’s honorees are shown in the photo, from left: May L. Wykle, Meridean L. Maas, Ada Sue Hinshaw, Suzanne Lee Feetham, and Patricia E. Benner.

Credited with such achievements as creating a nursing taxonomy on nursing error, building the science of pediatric nursing in the context of the family, conducting ground-breaking nursing research, developing and implementing professional nurse governance in employing organizations, promoting policy change, and addressing the nursing shortage, these nurses join 77 other nursing notables who’ve been so honored since the first class was named in 1994.

The Living Legends were diminished by one this past week with the death of Joyce C. Clifford, who is known for creating the “primary nursing” model under which an individual nurse cares for a particular patient throughout a hospital stay, among many other achievements.

The history of our profession is often missing from nursing curricula as schools struggle to fit in the sciences, clinical hours, and other required courses in the allotted time. But we need to find a way to keep our history alive for those who join us in this profession. Many will be surprised, I think, by the foresight, courage, and innovation these remarkable nurses brought to nursing—no timid handmaidens (or footmen) here! New nurses must be made aware of the legacy of these living legends—nurses who continually seek a better way to practice, to teach, and to move nursing forward—and sent the message that this isn’t a profession for slackers, but for innovators, doers, and thinkers. Read their biographies and be inspired.

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2016-11-21T13:11:35+00:00 October 27th, 2011|career, nursing perspective|2 Comments
Managing editor, American Journal of Nursing


  1. Peggy October 27, 2011 at 8:38 pm

    As I mentioned in my previous blog, I worked under a primary nursing model for 5 years and it was probably one of the key factors in keeping me at that hospital that long! I’ve always been a bit of a rambler and nursing is one of the few professions that you can enjoy that kind of flexibility. I was in a pediatric setting but I think it can be applied to pretty much any care area and can enhance both the patient and nurse experience. Kudos to these thought leaders and what they have brought to nursing! Thanks for sharing this info.

  2. Vernon Dutton October 27, 2011 at 8:36 pm

    Thank you Shawn, a Great article. We must keep the history of nursing alive for those who follow and for ourselves to help remind us where we came from and where we need to go from here. The Living Legends event is a wonderful program not only to give the well deserved recognition for advancement of the profession in the hear and now but to make sure their work is well documented and made available for future scholars. We are often too close to an event, theory or model to fully appreciate their potential and historical significance, All one has to do is look at the list of Legends, from Hildegard Peplau in the first group to Barbara L. Nichols last year to understand that their work is still unfolding and it is not a big step from Living Legend to Historical Icon.

    I’m glad you didn’t skip the “Living Legends” event too – So you could come back and remind us Slackers of some of the Few things that are important. 🙂 Thanks, Vernon.

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