In the Spotlight: Dr. Irene Daniels Lewis, NBNA Historian

For all their individual approaches and unique sets of beliefs, nurses share a common bond of a very rewarding, if not grueling, career. They focus on the present, but cannot help be moved by all the nurses who have saved lives, comforted patients and families, changed lives with research, and brought the profession to the point it's at today. And they bear the weight of laying frameworks for the nurses who will come after them.

So when Dr. Irene Daniels Lewis, RN, FAAN, was appointed as the current historian of the National Black Nurses Association, she knew the importance of the task at hand.

My job is to relay the history of the organization and to connect the past with the present while looking to the future,” says Lewis. Lewis, now in her second year of what's generally a two-year appointment by the NBNA president (currently Deidre Walton, JD, MSN, RN), knew she wanted to inspire nurses and make them feel a connection with each other and a sense of accomplishment in what they have all done.

This spring, Lewis's book, The National Black Nurses History Book, Volume 2, will be published and includes stories and sentiments from nurses nationwide.

Lewis asked local chapters across the country to relay their own legacy to her to include in the book's compilation. She asked for information about how the chapter started and what inspired them.

This was a source of inspiration for me,” says Lewis. “I wanted to share where we have been over the last years. I also asked the chapter presidents to share what they see for the future of the NBNA. That excites me.”

Lewis is a pioneer in her own right. With 52 years of nursing experience, she was the first black woman to graduate from the University of California San Francisco’s doctor of philosophy, nursing program. “I've seen lots of changes over a half century, and they are for the better,” she says.

For Lewis, the historian role is poignant. She retired from nursing and teaching (she was a professor of nursing at San Jose State University) in 2012, but knew she wanted to be a nurse since she was only 5 years old. Growing up in the projects in San Francisco, Lewis clearly remembers the caring and compassionate public health nurse who provided routine visits in the community. As a child, Lewis loved to take charge of her younger siblings by “listening” to their hearts, and she never forgot the influence of one nurse. “It's important because even as we have technology that allows us to interact, it doesn't allow us to interact on a level to share our dreams or with particular strategies we find to be helpful,” she says.

With that kind of sharing in mind, Lewis embarked on gathering stories for the book so nurses can access the stories and even network with others to find out more details if they want.

And in her role, Lewis says she's found one common theme. “We've come a long way baby, but we still have a long way to go,” she says. The stagnant or even declining numbers of black nurses who are having a difficult time matriculating to graduation and passing the state boards the first time is worrisome and needs to be addressed, she says. The nation needs to take a new approach and provide strategies and supports for nurses to advance, she says, and finish their degrees.

The book can be ordered from the National Black Nurses Association website later this spring.