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Notable nurse leader Shirley Chater will share insight at gala


Photo courtesy of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Shirley Chater, RN

Shirley Chater, RN, PhD, FAAN, will speak Aug. 23 at the Nursing Excellence GEM Awards ceremony, where she will be presented with the Diane F. Cooper Lifetime Achievement Award. Chater is the recipient of 13 honorary doctorates and numerous nursing awards and also served as commissioner of the Social Security Administration.

To find out how to attend the award ceremony and hear Chater’s presentation, visit

The award, sponsored by Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, is presented to those who reflect commitment, enthusiasm and advocacy for the nursing profession. As part of the award a $2,500 donation is made in the recipient’s name to the nursing organization of his or her choice.

Throughout her career, Chater said she led by listening to and learning from the workers on the ground. She paid it forward, not only through inclusive administrative policies, but also by personally mentoring other nurses.

Chater attended the University of Pennsylvania where she earned a BSN, practiced clinical work with cardiovascular patients and worked as an instructor. She said the dean recognized her potential for leadership and encouraged her to “go far away and have a different experience.” With that advice, Chater said she headed to California.

At the University of California at San Francisco, Chater earned a master’s degree in nursing and at the University of California, Berkeley, attained a doctorate in education. She quickly was offered a professorship in the school of nursing and soon had to decide between continuing in nursing practice or devoting herself to education and administration. She chose the latter and eventually became university vice chancellor for academic affairs.

Soon, other universities began to court her, and Chater said yes to Texas Woman’s University, which needed a president to keep it independent from other state schools. She maintained that independence, and while there led the Texas Health Policy Task Force at the request of Gov. Ann Richards. When Bill Clinton became president, Richards decided to send him Chater’s resume for the position of SSA commissioner.

At SSA’s helm, “customers” came first, Chater said, and major changes, such as annual social security statements and direct deposit of checks, were made.

After four years in Washington, D.C., Chater returned to California, became chair of the national advisory committee of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Executive Nurse Fellows program, a position she retired from in 2012. In 2000, she was honored as a “Living Legend” by the American Academy of Nursing.


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