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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