Thelma Schorr, Encouraging Nurses to Speak UP

Profiles in Nursing

Thelma Schorr, Encouraging Nurses to Speak UP

This editor and publisher left her mark on the nursing profession

By Elizabeth Hanink, RN, BSN, PHN
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Thelma Schorr tells an interesting story about her first day as a nurse. She walked onto the floor where there was one very pregnant charge nurse, a few aides, and some volunteers. Upon seeing her, the charge nurse, “heaved a big sigh, took the keys off her neck and said, ‘Thank God you’re here. I’m gone.’ And she left.”    

No plan, but an abundance of organizational skill, saved that day and many others. Schorr considers it the key to her success, saying that if you can do the head nurse job, you can manage anything. And manage she has. Schorr graduated from Bellevue Hospital School of Nursing in 1945, and in 1952, she obtained a BSN from Columbia University. By that time, with five years as head nurse under her belt, she started as an assistant editor for the American Journal of Nursing. In 1971, she rose to editor-in-chief, and from 1981–1991, she was publisher and president of the company.

In her various roles, she directed the publication of multiple nursing journals and pioneered the inclusion of continuing education articles. Along with Anne Zimmerman, she co-edited Making Choices, Taking Chance: Nurse Leaders Tell Their Stories in 1988, and in 1999, co-wrote with Shawn Kennedy, 100 Years of American Nursing. INANE, the society of nursing editors, came together under her leadership.  

A tireless advocate for the profession and for individual nurses, her constant goal has been to convince nurses to speak up. She once wrote, “You can’t be Gloria Steinem at a meeting and Phyllis Schafly on your ward.” (Schafly is, of course, no shrinking violet.) She also practiced what she preached. At the young age of 22, a New York City Hospital Commissioner labeled her a troublemaker because she dared to question hospital policy concerning isolation of TB patients. When the hospital refused to respond to her complaints, Schorr went to the newspapers with the story.

Of the all the changes seen in nursing over the course of her career, Schorr says the most important is the recognition of advance practice. Not only does it acknowledge the worth of what nurses do, but the possibility of advancement makes the profession much more attractive as a career choice. What is the worst? The loss of a clearly recognized uniform or insignia, says Schorr. Not that she wants to go back to caps and white stockings; it is just that she would like the professional nurse to stand out clearly.

What does this mother of three, grandmother of five, do now that she is well past retirement age? Plenty. In addition to nursing her husband, who has been in poor health, she continues to serve as an editorial consultant to the National Student Nurses Association. She is also a board member and newsletter editor for the Nurses Educational Funds, a member of the National Advisory Board of Hadassah Nurses Councils, and a board member of the Institutional Review Board of the Community Healthcare Network.

A member of Sigma Theta Tau and an honorary fellow in the American Academy of Nursing since 1994, she was named a Living Legend in 2000. Not bad for a “trouble maker.”   

Elizabeth Hanink, RN, BSN, PHN is a freelance writer with extensive hospital and community based nursing.

This article is from workingnurse.com.

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