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NLM Mourns the Loss of Faye G. Abdellah, former Deputy Surgeon General and NLM Board of Regents member (ex-officio)

March 14, 2017

Faye G. AbdellahDeputy Surgeon General Faye G. Abdellah, RN, MA, EdD, died on February 24, 2017, at the age of 97.

Dr. Abdellah was a nurse, educator, and deputy surgeon general of the Public Health Service. She served as the U.S Surgeon General’s alternate ex-officio member of the Board of Regents of the National Library of Medicine from 1972-1989.

Her accomplishments include being the first nurse and woman to serve as Deputy Surgeon General of the United States (1981-1989), the highest ranked woman and nurse in the Federal Nursing Services when she achieved the rank of Rear Admiral, and the founder and first dean of the Graduate School of Nursing at the Uniformed Service University of Health Sciences.

As possibly the longest serving member of the NLM Board, Dr. Abdellah gave presentations that updated board members on many public health issues, including smoking, pediatric AIDS, and drunk driving. She contributed to Board policies that shaped NLM programs and services and to the NLM Long-Range Plan for 1986-2006.

Dr. Abdellah was recognized internationally for her contributions to nursing research. She was known for creating a typology of 21 areas of focus for nurses, divided into three classes: physical, sociological and emotional needs of the patient; types of nurse-patient interpersonal relationships; and common elements of patient care.

She advocated for nursing education to be research based, for nurses teaching self-care to patients, and an interdisciplinary approach to care.  

Dr. Abdellah was adamant about the need for education based on science very early in her career. When she first taught nursing students at Yale University, she was so frustrated with the National League of Nursing guidelines because they had no scientific basis that she burned a stack of their curriculum guides in the Yale Courtyard. She told the Journal of Nursing Scholarship that it took her a year to pay for the books she burned.

In 2000 during her National Women’s Hall of Fame acceptance speech, Dr. Abdellah said, "We cannot wait for the world to change .… Those of us with intelligence, purpose, and vision must take the lead and change the world…. I promise never to rest until my work has been completed!”

 A collection of Dr. Abdellah’s papers was donated to NLM in 1988.

For an obituary of Dr. Abdellah, go to http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/dignitymemorial/obituary.aspx?n=faye-glenn-abdellah&pid=184354170#sthash.GTDSMlqZ.dpuf.

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Last Reviewed: March 14, 2017