Since graduating from New York Citys Bellevue Hospital School of Nursing in 1945, Thelma Schorr, RN, BSN, FAAN, has followed one important professional mantra: speak up for what you believe is right.
An early test of her resolve came with Schorrs first job as head nurse on a medical unit at Bellevue when the hospital began admitting TB patients onto her unit without taking the necessary precautions to isolate them. She protested, but the hospital wouldnt budge, and neither would the NYC Commissioner of Hospitals, she said.
So Schorr took her cause to the newspapers. The press reported on the situation, and the TB policy was changed. In the many years since then, Schorr has encouraged thousands of nurses to stand up through her actions, writings and presentations.
“Ive made a lot of speeches since then and in all of them Ive urged nurses to stand up and be counted, to think of themselves as professionals,” Schorr said.
Schorr said she caught the speaking bug right after her first big speech for an audience of about 5,000 at an American Nurses Association convention in Atlantic City, N.J. She had never addressed an audience that size and was terrified.
“I was just quaking as I sat there,” she said. “Next to me was a Catholic priest who was also waiting to speak. He saw that I was literally shaking and he wrote me a note saying, ‘God will take care of you. Sure enough, once I got up there and started talking, I settled down and found that I loved it, so I kept making speeches.”
Her early independent thinking is what has allowed Schorr to carve out a nursing career that is unlike most. She was hired as an assistant editor at the American Journal of Nursing, eventually becoming associate editor, senior editor, executive editor and then editor-in-chief, a post she held from 1971 to 1981, when she was named president and publisher.
Her legacy was most famously captured by former AJN editor Mary Mallison, RN, in the 1990 editorial “The Passionate Troublemaker.”
Among her numerous accomplishments are three honorary doctorates, an ANA lifetime achievement award and designation as a Living Legend by the American Academy of Nursing, an honor she described as a highlight of her career because of the recognition she received from a special presenter at the event.
“I brought my entire family out to California for the ceremony and my 4-year-old grandson marched up the stairs to the stage with a big bouquet of yellow roses for me,” she said.
Her accomplishments also have gone into music and include serving as interim executive director for the American Guild of Organists.
Under her tenure, AJN received an American Society of Magazine Editors National Magazine Award for Service to the Individual in recognition of its continuing education series.
Not one to slow down, Schorr continues to contribute to the profession through her roles as an editorial consultant for the National Student Nurses Association; board member and newsletter editor for the Nurses Educational Funds, Inc.; board member emerita for Institutional Review Board, Community Healthcare Network; and national advisory board member for the Hadassah Nurses Councils.
She is most grateful, she said, for having the skills that led her into a profession that made her very happy.
“I had a wonderful career,” she said. “I really loved it, and I loved the people I was fortunate to work with.”
Schorr also continues to bring her message to nurses, having recently spoken at the Nurses Educational Funds, Inc,s centennial celebration last fall.
She still has the same message for nurses.
“I would always end my speeches with a quote from Hillel that goes, ‘If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?” she says. “Its still applicable to nurses at this point as well.”
Tracey Boyd is a regional reporter.
EDITORS NOTE: In recognition of the 25th anniversary of Nurse.com (Nursing Spectrum), the magazine will celebrate 25 key members of the New York/New Jersey nursing community in 2013.