Yale School of Nursing, Yale University's Graduate Nursing Programs

Yale School of Nursing

Nursing "Living Legend" Donna Diers Passes Away

February 24, 2013

Donna Diers

YSN Professor Donna Diers, the Annie W. Goodrich Professor Emerita, sixth dean of the School, and American Academy of Nursing Living Legend, died on February 24 at Yale-New Haven Hospital. Professor Diers will be remembered for her many contributions to the School as a teacher and administrator, but also for her contributions to the profession. She chronicled and advocated for the development of advanced practice nursing and engagement in public policy.

View the Donna Diers remembrance page.

Read the front page story in "Yale Daily News".

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Donna Diers Student Aid and Opportunity Fund.

Read the story in the March 1st issue of the New Haven Register.

Born in Wyoming, she aspired to be a journalist, but then fell in love with nursing. She graduated with a BSN from the University of Denver, an MSN from Yale University, and a PhD from the University of Technology, Sydney (Australia). Dr. Diers served as the Dean of YSN from 1972 to 1985. During this time, she developed the first Graduate Entry Program for people without an undergraduate degree in nursing, which led to practice as an advanced practice nurse in two and a half years. She received numerous honors for her work, including being named a Living Legend by the American Academy of Nursing and an honorary doctorate from the University of Wyoming in 2012.

Her contributions to nursing were myriad. She helped to develop methods for nursing research, wrote the first textbook on the subject, and was also recognized for her work on the policy and politics of advanced practice nursing (nursing practitioner and nurse-midwifery). Dr. Diers' work with DRG-based information for hospital data systems, begun in Australia, has informed clinical, operational and financial decision-making in that country and the USA. Her publications appeared in all major nursing journals in the USA and in many journals in health services and nursing in the USA, Australia and New Zealand. She was editor of "Image-Journal of Nursing Scholarship" for eight years. A popular public speaker, she also consulted and taught on writing for publication. Her book, "Speaking of Nursing … Narratives of Practice, Research, Policy and the Profession," received the AJN Book of the Year Award in 2005.

We honor our friend, colleague and mentor, by reprising a piece she wrote for "Yale Nursing Matters" magazine in 2002:

Knowing what I know now, would I do it again?

by Donna Diers 

Would I choose nursing, over, say, journalism or miniature making, teaching English or playing cocktail piano in smoky bars? Or even professional basketball. Tall women now have interesting career choices . . .

Would I choose again the terror of caring for my first patient?

Her name was Mrs. Gibson and she was in Room 108 on the south wing of Presbyterian Hospital in Denver and she was facing surgery to remove one of her very large breasts and I was 19 years old and nearly breastless in my spanking new uniform and cap. I was supposed to bathe her and be comforting.

Would I choose my first job sensibly? Even before I had passed state boards (now NCLEX) I was to be the Chief Nurse at a Campfire Girls camp in the mountains above Denver. My first case was tick removal, which I knew how to do with a lighted cigarette. My second was acute homesickness, easily cured with a phone call to Mom. My third was to hold the head of the handsomest wrangler as I removed a bit of something from his eye in full view of 60 pre-teen girls.

I've never been so popular before or since.

Would I again choose psychiatric nursing? Would I succumb to the intricacies of how the mind and person works, from my first experience as a student nurse in a huge state hospital in Colorado on a men's ward where the treatments were either electric or insulin shock?

Would I choose again to emigrate across half the country to Yale Psychiatric Institute (YPI) to study psychiatric nursing and practice it at a world class hospital then changing the way it thought about nursing under the vision and leadership of Anna T. Baziak (YSN '57). She was Director of Nursing, only five years older than I was. Would I even recognize that I was in a world class environment with psychiatrists who wrote definitive books and nurses who got federal research grants?

And then as a faculty member, would I choose again to mine my own and other's experience to begin to build a science of practice? Would I even have known back then that's what we were trying to do? 

Would I have chosen to try to speak about the personal experience it is to care? Would I have chosen to live in the vast range of scientific, political and policy issues, the issues of the rights and privileges and obligations of women professionals? Would I have chosen nursing if I had known how deep the sexism and nursism and public discrimination and invisibility are? And how much fun it would be to fight those monsters?

Would I have chosen nursing if I had known the excitement of pushing forward the boundaries of human service and participating in changing the health care system, shaping it?

Would I have chosen nursing if I could have anticipated the experience of being in the company of those who do this work? 

You betcha.