Influential Nurse Leader Turns Attention to IOM Report on Nursing

National League for Nursing President Beverly Malone will support new nurse leaders while championing recommendations in the Institute of Medicine's future of nursing report, supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

    • December 19, 2010

Beverly Malone, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N., one of the most powerful nurse leaders in the country, learned the art of healing from the ground up—as a young girl in rural Kentucky who helped her great-grandmother, the daughter of a slave, heal the people around her.

Malone recalls picking locally grown medicinal plants for her great-grandmother in the wilds of the Kentucky prairie, helping her great-grandmother mix them together to create powerful herbal medicines, and using them to help return the sick to good health.

Inspired by her great-grandmother and her seemingly miraculous ability to heal, Malone developed a passion for health and health care. “I just wanted to do that thing that I saw her do so well,” she says.

In 1966 Malone enrolled in the nursing school at the University of Cincinnati and soon after won a scholarship to finish her undergraduate work and earn a master’s degree in psychiatric nursing. Mental health wasn’t her primary interest, she says, but the offer of financial aid was too good to turn down. “I always told my ‘psych’ colleagues that I was purchased,” she jokes. “I was bought.”

Malone turned out to have a facility—a passion even—for the field of mental health nursing, and she dove in to the program. A mentor, Hildegard Peplau, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N., saw leadership potential in the young nurse scholar and encouraged her to pursue a doctoral degree.

“My mentor said, ‘If you’re not interested in being a leader, you shouldn’t be here,’” Malone recalls. “I had to make a decision about whether to be a leader. I thought she would get rid of me if I decided against it, so I said to myself, ‘OK. I’ll be a leader.’”

And that is precisely what she has become. Malone beat out some 400 other applicants for a slot in the University of Cincinnati’s doctoral program in clinical psychology and began her coursework two weeks after her second child was born.

She graduated in 1981 and began a rapid ascension up the ladder of nursing leadership. She became director of nursing professional staff resources at the hospital affiliated with the University of Cincinnati and then became the hospital’s assistant administrator of nursing. “Once you get started in leadership,” she says, “it’s hard to look back.”

And indeed, she never has.

In 1986 Malone became dean of and professor at the school of nursing at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro; in 1996 she assumed the presidency of the American Nurses Association; in 1999 she was named deputy assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; and in 2001 she became General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing of the United Kingdom in London, the largest professional union of nursing staff in the world.

Along the way she has served on a variety of editorial boards, consulted with numerous health care organizations, and articulated her views on nursing and health care in public speeches and on the printed page. She has held several prestigious positions on international, federal and state task forces, including the World Health Assembly, the National Forum for Health Care Quality Measurement and Reporting, and President Clinton’s Advisory Commission on Consumer Protection in the Health Care Industry.

In 2007 she became chief executive officer of the National League for Nursing, a membership organization for nurse faculty and leaders in nurse education. She also currently serves as a National Advisory Committee member for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Nurse Faculty Scholars program, which provides talented junior faculty in academic nursing with three years of career development support through mentorship, leadership training, and salary and research support.

In August, Modern Healthcare, a magazine about the business of health care, called her the 29th most powerful person in health care in the country. She was one of nine nurses on the prestigious list of 100 people—which was topped by President Barack Obama—and one of four nurses with strong ties to the Foundation.

Entering Her Fifth Decade in Nursing, Malone Turns Attention to Nursing’s Future

Now entering her fifth decade in the nursing profession, Malone is focusing on one of the biggest challenges of her professional life: implementing the recommendations of a transformational report on the future of the nursing profession that was released by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in October.

To meet the increased demand for care that will be created by health care reform and to advance improvements in America’s increasingly complex health system, the report recommends a number of significant changes to the nursing profession.

As one of the report’s reviewers, Malone is intimately familiar with those recommendations, which include removing barriers that prevent nurses from practicing to the full extent of their training and abilities; fostering interprofessional collaboration so that nurses are full partners with physicians and other health professionals in redesigning health care in the United States; improving nurse education so that nurses are able to meet changing health care needs; creating an infrastructure for interprofessional health care workforce data collection; and preparing and enabling nurses to lead change.

Specific recommendations in the area of nurse education—the main focus of the National League for Nursing—include the implementation of residency training for nurses, increasing the percentage of nurses who attain a bachelor’s degree to 80 percent by 2020, and doubling the number who pursue doctorates.

The recommendations, she says, will be challenging—but certainly not impossible—to put in to practice.

“Implementing these recommendations is the next big agenda item for nursing,” Malone says. “We need to come together as nurses and make this happen. We make things happen in all areas of life: schools, prisons, hospitals. This is something we can do.”

In addition to improving education for nurses, Malone is focusing on enhancing diversity within the profession and developing future nurse leaders—both key topics of the report.

Those goals, she says, dovetail nicely with her work with the Nurse Faculty Scholars program.

“This program is one of the most exciting growth and leadership opportunities for nurses in the country,” she says. “Who is going to teach our students? How are they going to move into leadership positions? How are we going to keep that cutting edge in nursing? This program addresses all of that. It is so exciting to be a part of something that unleashes these incredible leaders in the health care system.”