Dr. Ruby L. Wilson, a distinguished nurse, left this world to be with her Heavenly Father on July 31, 2023.
Dr. Wilson was born in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, on May 29, 1931 to Rev. Clark H. and Alda E. Wilson who predeceased her as have her siblings: Hazel Eakman, Clara Jane Davis, Ruth Davidson, Russell Wilson, Clair Wilson, John T. Wilson, Denzel G. Wilson and Curtis Herbert Wilson. A number of nieces, nephews, and their children live across the country, including Susan Wilson (Bill Drummond) and Shawn Wilson Jennings (Pete Jennings). Great nieces are Barbara Denesevich (Mark), Nancy Herlihy (Mike) and Miranda Claire Jennings; great nephews David Mellon (Mary Ann), Richard Mellon (Christine), Curtis Mellon (Deborah), and Nathaniel Curtis Jennings. Also surviving are a host of friends, cousins, colleagues (many from Thailand), and former students.
An honor graduate of Punxsutawney High School and Allegheny General Hospital (AGH) School of Nursing in Pittsburgh, Pa., she received a BSNEd degree from University of Pittsburgh, an MSN degree from Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and an EdD degree from Duke University. Dr. Wilson also did post-graduate work at the University of California in San Francisco and the University of Washington in Seattle.
As a young graduate nurse, Dr. Wilson served as Night Clinical Supervisor at AGH, the 660-bed emergency hospital for Pittsburgh, before joining the faculty of Duke University School of Nursing in Durham, NC in 1955. In her early years at Duke, Dr. Wilson extended the reach of nursing at Duke, even as she brought her personal energy and vision to rethinking the profession. Her innovations were directed toward the improvement of nursing education for students and nursing care for patients. She helped develop the advanced medical-surgical nursing course for senior students in the new generic BSN program that included a three-month internship upon curriculum completion. The BSN curriculum also required an independent study in the senior year, the subject of which often became the focal point of the future practice of the young graduate.
The first ever master's program (MSN) in clinical nursing was developed by Dr. Wilson together with Thelma Ingles, a teaching colleague, and became a national model for graduate nursing specialization. From 1955-57, she co-chaired with Duke Chancellor of Health Affairs to develop a program of national preparedness against nuclear warfare (MEND) to shelter, feed, and care for the Durham community (then about 75,000 people) in the underground tunnel between West and East campuses at Duke; this was the basis for mass casualty drills for hospitals still in use today.
From 1961-62, Dr. Wilson directed the first Primary Nursing Program with 16 new Duke BSN graduates, in which patients were admitted to a nurse as well as a physician for improved comprehensive care, and a daily direct monetary charge according to one of three levels of nursing care needed by the patient was made by the Duke business office and deposited to "Hanes Nursing Care”. In 1963, Dr. Wilson developed and served in the first Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)
position at Duke Medical Center, continuing her faculty positions in the Schools of Nursing and Medicine and receiving a special appointment in the Department of Nursing Services of Duke Hospital. She is the only nurse to have this triad appointment in Duke Medical Center. She was the first CNS of Duke’s new kidney transplant program.
She was instrumental in collaborating with the School of Medicine to offer clinical education to the first discharged military medical technicians in Duke’s Physician Assistants (PAs) program and to open the admissions to women.
Upon completion of her doctoral degree in 1968, Dr. Wilson was recruited by the Rockefeller Foundation in New York City to be Visiting Professor and Consultant in Nursing at the School of Nursing of the Faculty of Medicine, Ramathibodi Hospital, Mahidol University, in Bangkok, Thailand from 1968-71. During this time of developing this new research medical center Dr. Wilson assisted with developing new 1) nursing and medical curricula; 2) teaching methods; 3) patient care organization (nursing services and nursing education under one director); 4) hospital policies; 5) Community Health Program in a rural setting; and 6) relationships with the Prime Minister and other governmental officials. The hospital and clinics were opened on a phased basis, new curricula were approved by the government of Thailand for both the Nursing and Medical Schools (BSN for Nursing). The School of Nursing and the Department of Nursing were one organizational unit, responsible for clinical services, education, and research in nursing, an organizational structure that lasted for 42 years there.
Dr. Wilson’s services as consultant in nursing curriculum were requested by nursing programs in colleges and universities throughout the United States and several other foreign countries, including Canada, China, Malaysia, Iran, Puerto Rico, India, Sweden, England, Colombia, and Australia. In 1971 she returned to Duke University, and was appointed Dean of the Duke University School of Nursing, a position she maintained until 1984, when she became Assistant to the Chancellor for Health Affairs at Duke. As Dean, she facilitated individual professional development of the faculty members; 2) development and implementation of an innovative undergraduate curriculum with core required courses, clinical ones having physical assessment skills; a required independent study; eight electives for either a) a concentration in an area of nursing, b) a second major (non-lab), or c) a variety of nursing/non-nursing electives, and d) senior options for study of nursing abroad in England or in rural community hospitals in North Carolina; and 3) re-establishment of the graduate program (MSN), providing flexible study to be either a generalist or a specialist within a three-semester year, full time or part-time. The BSN program remained "one of a kind' with electives and study abroad. Dr. Wilson later served as a commuting Visiting Professor to the doctoral nursing program at Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing at Case Western University in Cleveland, Ohio for two years.
An early nurse activist in legislative policy on matters pertaining to health and nursing in particular, Dr. Wilson was a role model leading nursing organizations at the state and federal levels. She assisted in drafting language of federal nursing bills, formulated regulations for these bills, presented testimony to Congress, visited Senators and Representatives who served on committees related to health and nursing issues.
At home at Duke, she taught a seminar on Legislative Issues for nurses in the graduate program and involved faculty in state legislative issues. She also developed the first Governmental Affairs Committee of the American Association of Colleges of Nurses organization and served as its chair.
A supporter of inter-institutional collaboration, Dr. Wilson's efforts culminated in dual appointment of selected faculty and nursing staff members between the School of Nursing at Duke and Nursing Services at both Duke Medical Center and the Veterans Administration Medical Centers in Durham and Asheville, NC. This interest in collaboration also resulted in her founding of the North Carolina Council of Deans of Baccalaureate and Higher Degree Programs, serving as President for several years, and the Virginia/Carolinas Doctoral Consortium in Nursing to plan for a conjoint doctoral nursing program in the 1970s. She also initiated the formation of the Nursing Oncology Society of North Carolina.
At the state level, Dr. Wilson was appointed to the Medical Care Commission of North Carolina; the Governor's Committee for Graduate Nursing Programs in North Carolina; the Advisory Committee for the North Carolina Center for Nursing; and the North Carolina Joint Committee for Nursing Education of the Department of Community Colleges, the State Board of Higher Education, and the University of North Carolina Board of Governors. She also served on the Charter Board of Directors for the North Carolina Foundation for Nursing, of which she later served as President. She was a Charter Member of the Women's Forum of North Carolina, which was influential in women leading state governmental committees in NC.
Dr. Wilson was an active member of many professional nursing associations at the district, state, and national levels, serving as an officer or influential leader in most. These included: the American Association of Colleges of Nursing; the National League for Nursing; the American Nurses Association; the American Association of International Health; the American Academy of Nursing; the Southern Regional Education Board; the National Health Forum of Women Administrators; the American Association of Higher Education; and Sigma Theta Tau, the International Honor Society of Nursing. She also served on the editorial boards of several professional nursing journals and as a consultant for professional nurse development to the Veterans Administration Medical Centers in Durham and Asheville, NC.
Several nursing leaders have commented that "Dr. Wilson was a nursing leader be-
fore her time," and her innovations were recognized by Duke University in 2006 when
she was awarded their highest honor, the Distinguished Meritorious Service Award,
the only female among six faculty members in Duke's Medical Center to receive it.
After leaving the Deanship in 1984, Dr. Wilson was appointed Assistant to the Chancellor for Health Affairs. The following quotation is from one of her presentations to students:
I have consistently loved the teaching and mentoring of nursing students and young graduates-encouraging them to use their knowledge and develop their full potential as nurses. Now I urge each of you not to be afraid to be creative with your ideas to improve health care for patients and their families. Be assertive in asking for doors of opportunity to be opened to you. Ask to be permitted “to try;” ask for the privilege to even fail! We learn more from our errors than our successes! Be enthusiastic in what you do and ever be a learner as well as a knowledgeable helper in people’s health care.”
In 2008 the Duke University School of Nursing Alumni Association presented Dr. Wilson with the Lifetime Achievement Award. She was recognized for spending most of her professional career at Duke where she displayed a lifelong dedication to nursing education, nursing care, and community service. In 1973, Dr. Wilson was elected a Fellow in the American Academy of Nursing (AAN), an organization of the American Nurses Association created to recognize outstanding nurses who have and will advance knowledge, education, and the practice of the profession of nursing. In 2009, she was designated a Living Legend of this national/international honorary nursing organization for her contributions of great distinction to nursing long after her initial recognition and induction into the AAN. Living Legends are perceived as most stellar Fellows and role models to be emulated by other nurses. The North Carolina Nurses Association's Hall of Fame admitted Dr. Wilson in 2010 for her significant nursing leadership and achievements. In 2011, Dr. Wilson was designated a Legacy Laureate by the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Dr. Wilson's concern for patients with cancer was reflected in her developmental and continuing involvement in the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program, being its
first Chair of the Advisory Board in 1987 and a continuing/current member of the Board.
As a member of the prestigious Institute of Medicine, elected in 1977 and still the only North Carolina nurse member, Dr. Wilson served on the 1983 National Nursing Study Committee with the final report including a recommendation that ultimately resulted in the National Institute of Nursing Research. She was influential in helping to select its first Director and was invited to a conference to plan a new organizational structure of nursing at the federal level. Dr. Wilson also served as a Presidential appointee on the National Council of Nurse Training of the United States Public Health Services from 1973-80, which reviewed grant proposals ranging from construction of schools of nursing to curricular programs and research endeavors.
She has received Distinguished Alumna Awards from all her alma maters; been made an Honorary Alumna of Duke University School of Nursing; special awards from the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program, the American Cancer Society, and the North Carolina Nurses Association; and the Governor's Award of the Order of the Long Leaf Pine of North Carolina.
In 2006 the new Duke School of Nursing was dedicated including the Ruby L. Wilson Patient Assessment Laboratory. In late 2013 Dr. Wilson was recognized by Duke University as being its longest-term employee at 57 years, and an endowed nursing scholarship was established in her name, Ruby L. Wilson, Professor of Nursing, Assistant to the Chancellor for Health Affairs, and Dean Emerita of the School of Nursing.
Dr. Wilson attended Epworth United Methodist Church and was a member of the United Methodist Women mission group. the Prayer Group, and the International Sunday School Class. She was also active in several other organized Christian women’s groups and was an ardent Duke Blue Devil basketball fan.
Graveside service will be Friday, August 18, 2023 at 11am at Smicksburg Cemetery. Arrangements have been entrusted to the McCabe Funeral Home Inc. of Punxsutawney, PA.
A Celebration of Life service will be held Sunday, November 5, 2023 at 3:00pm at Epworth United Methodist Church, 3002 Hope Valley Road, Durham, NC.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Ruby L. Wilson Student Scholarship at https://www.gifts.duke.edu/nursing; Duke University School of Nursing, Office of Development and Alumni Affairs, 307 Trent Drive, DUMC 3322, Durham, NC 27710
or Epworth United Methodist Church.
To Share a memory, visit www.mccabewaldronfh.com