American Academy of Nursing Remembers Donna Diers

The American Academy of Nursing sent out an email this week commemorating the work of the late Donna Diers. Named a “Living Legend” by the AAN, Donna’s impact on nursing has been profound.

Below is the email from AAN President, Joanne Disch:

Donna Diers
Living Legend
American Academy of Nursing

Dear Fellows,

Noted nursing leader and Academy Living Legend Donna Diers, PhD, RN, FAAN, died February 23 at Yale-New Haven Hospital. A long-time faculty member and dean at Yale University School of Nursing, she inspired nurses around the world with her eloquence and activism. A beautiful tribute is available on the Yale University website. Tributes and remembrances can be shared on the site.

Over the past week, we have been reminded of her impact on Yale, and the greater nursing and health care communities. We learned how she advanced professional nursing at Yale, among other institutions, and initiated randomized, controlled clinical trials that became the mainstay of clinical research at the Yale School of Nursing. She perfected the Graduate Education Program for Nursing that admitted college graduates for three years of study, leading to the Masters of Science in Nursing and a practice credential in a clinical specialty. We have read how she integrated women into Mory’s, the iconic Yale institution.

Ed Halloran, long-time colleague and friend, noted that “she debated the new head of the physician’s assistant program in the medical school there and argued they were a more limited version of the advanced nurse practitioners already being prepared for midwifery, psychiatry, and adult nursing in her school . . . . She championed independent nurse midwifery practice at Yale and helped sustain a progressive birthing center in New Haven for many years.” Ed went on to note that, among her many sustaining contributions, she will be remembered for her written and spoken words. She was the consummate editor for the prominent nursing journal, Image, and her editorials covered every aspect of nursing and health care. Her numerous published articles conveyed to many what she felt was the essence of nursing.

Similar to many Academy Fellows, I did not know Donna Diers well as an individual, but I was moved tremendously by her writing. Two quotes that have inspired me convey the universal and timeless power of her thoughts about nursing. The first comes from an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine that she co-authored with Claire Fagin in 1982 titled “Nursing as Metaphor.” In this piece, they described the different ways that nursing served as a metaphor for others: as mothering, class struggle, equality, conscience, intimacy and sex. Their preference as metaphor? Nurses as “tough, canny, powerful, autonomous, and heroic” (Mason, Isaacs, & Colby, 2011, 115).

The second quote is from a piece in Nursing Outlook, also in the early 1980s, titled “Nursing Reclaims its Role,’ and reprinted in her book (2004, 201). Here she provides a simple, yet profound definition of nursing that I have used ever since:

“Nursing puts us in touch with being human. Without even asking, we are invited into the inner spaces of other people’s existence. For where there is loneliness, suffering, the tolerable pain of cure, or the solitary pain of permanent change, there is a need for the kind of human service we call nursing.”

We are saddened by her death. We are a better profession because she was one of us.


Joanne Disch, PhD, RN, FAAN
President, American Academy of Nursing

Diers D (2004). Speaking of nursing . . . Narratives of practice, research, policy in the profession. Sudbury MA: Jones and Bartlett.

Mason DJ, Isaacs SL, & Colby DC (2011). The nursing profession: Development, challenges and opportunities. Princeton NJ: Robert Wood Johnson.

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