1. Mason, Diana J. PhD, RN, FAAN


Editor's note: Donna Diers, the former dean and Annie W. Goodrich Professor Emerita of the Yale University School of Nursing, and an American Academy of Nursing Living Legend, died on February 23 at Yale-New Haven Hospital in New Haven, Connecticut. Diers was a member of AJN's editorial board and a founding member of our journal oversight committee. We will miss her support, wit, and counsel. We asked AJN's editor-in-chief emeritus, Diana J. Mason, to write a remembrance of Donna.


Article Content

In the mid-1980s, I submitted a manuscript on the imperative that nurses engage in grassroots political action to what was then called Image: The Journal of Nursing Scholarship, the official journal of Sigma Theta Tau. The editor was Donna Diers, and I had become a fan of her poignant, sometimes provocative editorials. She sent back reviews and suggested a major overhaul of the paper but was encouraging. I revised and resubmitted. She again suggested numerous, substantive revisions with encouragement. At this point, I engaged two colleagues, Barbara Backer and C. Alicia Georges, to help me rethink the paper. We refocused and retitled the manuscript, "Toward the Political Empowerment of Nurses," and resubmitted it. I believe we had one more revision before Donna accepted and published it. The paper was reprinted in other publications and highly cited for a period of time. This wouldn't have happened without the superb and exacting editorial eye, constructive criticism, and encouragement of Donna Diers.

Figure. Donna Diers... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. Donna Diers

I often felt rather intimidated in her presence-not because of anything she did, but from my own comparative inadequacies. I heard her speak on many occasions and always left in profound awe at her use of language and at the illumination of ideas that stirred and provoked. Indeed, she was a leader in the movement to get nurse researchers to shift their focus from studying nurses to studying the important clinical issues of the day. She remained a champion of clinical nursing research, its importance to nursing practice and high-quality patient care, and its relevance for organizational and public policy. Later, she challenged nurses to mine the rich databases in their workplaces to support clinical nursing decision making. Unlike other scholars of the day, Donna didn't buy into the quantitative-qualitative dichotomy. She understood the power of narrative alone and in illuminating quantitative data.


Despite not yet having a doctoral degree, Donna was the dean of the Yale University School of Nursing from 1972 to 1985, assuming the position at a time when the university was seeking to close the school. She didn't need the degree to lead the school. Her power emerged from her thoughtful, sometimes sassy, always witty, confident, and strategic engagement with the community and leadership of that Ivy League university. She once shared with me the story of storming the all-male faculty club on campus, a kind of civil disobedience that led to the club opening its doors to women.


When I assumed the position of editor-in-chief of AJN, I asked Donna to be on the editorial board and later to serve on the journal oversight committee. This was the first such committee for a nursing journal, and I knew I needed people of her caliber to advise us on how to strengthen the journal and address conflicts that might arise from differences in editorial and business interests. She was always forthright, including in telling me when I wasn't thinking objectively about the journal's challenges.


Donna later earned a PhD from the University of Technology, Sydney, in Australia, where she became a frequent visitor and collaborator with nurses from that country and from New Zealand. She had recently started to plan for retiring to her home state of Wyoming. Her last book, Speaking of Nursing, was an anthology of her many speeches and writings. I was deeply honored and humbled when she asked me to write the book's foreword. And, of course, I spent endless hours on it, certain that it wouldn't match the standard of the rest of the book. She was kind and generous in her reaction.


In 2010, Donna Diers was selected to be a Living Legend by the American Academy of Nursing. It was a fitting tribute to a brilliant nurse who led our profession to build its scholarship in order to advance nursing practice. Her death came much earlier than I, and many others, expected. We were not done with her, but we will remain grateful to her for having raised our expectations of ourselves and our profession.-Diana J. Mason, PhD, RN, FAAN