Susan Hassmiller Receives Florence Nightingale Medal

RWJF senior adviser for nursing awarded nursing's highest international honor.

    • July 6, 2009

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, selected three volunteer nurses from the United States to receive the 42nd Florence Nightingale Medal, nursing’s highest international honor. The medal is awarded every two years, with 28 medals presented this year among 15 nations.

Susan Hassmiller, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N., of Princeton Junction, N.J., was one U.S. nurse chosen, joined by Meredith Buck of Pennsylvania and Diana Whaley of Tennessee. American Red Cross President and CEO Gail McGovern presented the medals to all three during a June 25 ceremony in Washington, D.C.

“We are pleased the ICRC chose Sue Hassmiller for this esteemed honor,” said American Red Cross of Central New Jersey CEO Kevin Sullivan. “Sue’s outstanding work with the Red Cross, which has included handling difficult situations in leadership roles during major disaster responses, exemplifies the humanity necessary to merit this distinction.” Sullivan added, “We are proud to work alongside her.”

Hassmiller began volunteering with the Red Cross following the 1975 earthquake in Mexico. The Red Cross helped her locate her parents, who were visiting Mexico at the time. Hassmiller has since been a volunteer involved in Red Cross disaster relief efforts in the United States and abroad, including tornadoes in the Midwest, Hurricane Andrew, September 11th, the Indian Ocean tsunami and Hurricane Katrina.

When three consecutive hurricanes hit Florida within weeks of each other in 2004, Hassmiller oversaw the physical and mental health of shelter residents on Florida’s East Coast. She set up a special hospice unit in a secluded area of one shelter for dying and special-needs patients until the state could take over. Another shelter housed a number of disaster clients who were mentally ill and Hassmiller worked closely with psychiatrists to ensure proper medication and referral, and the protection of the rest of the shelter population.

Moments after the planes struck the twin towers in New York City on 9/11, Hassmiller took action to open a shelter that evening for those left homeless by the attack and was among the first volunteers to man the 9/11 crisis line, a job that entailed speaking with the families of the lost and deceased. 

Hassmiller served as a member of the National Board of Governors for the American Red Cross from 2001-2007, serving in the role as chair of the Disaster and Chapter Services Committee and chair of the 9/11 Recovery Program. She currently serves on the board of the American Red Cross of Central New Jersey, where she has volunteered since 1997 and remains an active volunteer at National Headquarters as a member of the National Nursing Committee.

Hassmiller holds the position of senior adviser for nursing with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) in Princeton and is currently on loan to the Institute of Medicine as director of the RWJF Initiative on the Future of Nursing.

“We congratulate Sue Hassmiller on receiving this very prestigious award,” said RWJF President Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, M.D., M.B.A. “Dr. Hassmiller’s visionary leadership in the field of nursing has helped the Foundation initiate and implement numerous longstanding programs that aim to address the nurse and nurse faculty shortages.  Her passion and commitment has helped to shed light on the important role that nurses play in the health care system and our communities.”


Medals Awarded Worldwide:

This year, the International Committee of the Red Cross awarded 28 medals to residents of 15 nations. These nurses epitomize the Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross Movement:  humanity; impartiality; neutrality; independence; voluntary service; unity; and universality. 

About the American Red Cross:

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and counsels victims of disasters; provides nearly half of the nation's blood supply; teaches lifesaving skills; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization—not a government agency—and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its humanitarian mission.

About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation:

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving the health and health care of all Americans, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, meaningful and timely change. For more than 35 years, the Foundation has brought experience, commitment, and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves. When it comes to helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need, the Foundation expects to make a difference in your lifetime.

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