Vernice Ferguson, Administrator, NYU Nursing Alum, Dead at 84

NYU.edu | 12/18/2012, 4 p.m.

Vernice Doris Ferguson, RN, MA, FAAN, FRCN, 84, died on Saturday, Dec. 8, at her home in Washington, D.C. Ferguson was nationally and internationally known for her leadership role in fostering excellence in nursing care and the nursing profession. Throughout her career, she was a role model for nurses at every level of the profession, whether practitioners, administrators, or researchers. Exemplifying the highest ideals of nursing, she had increased awareness of the vital role nurses play in health care research and policy making, and thereby contributed enormously to the greater prominence of nurses as leaders in the health-care community.

Ferguson served as a top nurse executive in federal service at the Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Institutes of Health, and was the chief nurse at two VA Medical Centers affiliated with academic health science centers in Madison, Wisconsin and Chicago, Illinois.

For twelve years, from 1980 to 1992, she served as the nurse executive for nursing programs for the Department of Veterans Affairs, the largest organized nursing service in the world with more than 60,000 nursing personnel. She was the first nurse appointed deputy assistant chief medical director for nursing programs.

As the chief nurse in the Veterans Administration, she set up research programs and was instrumental in establishing the Veterans Administration Health Professional Scholarship Program, which proved crucial in recruiting and retaining qualified nurses in the system. Concerned about ways to inspire caregivers, she helped create the Secretary of Health and Human Services' Annual Award for Excellence in Nursing. She also traveled throughout the country evaluating conditions and looking for ways to educate staff nurses and help them value their work.

During her leadership at the Veterans Administration, the number of registered nurses with a baccalaureate degree or higher more than doubled.

Prior to the VA assignment, from 1972 to 1980, she served as the chief, Nursing Department, of the Clinical Center at the National Institutes of Health.

Ferguson was born June 13, 1928, in Fayetteville, NC. She received her Bachelor of Science and nursing certificate from New York University and Bellevue Nursing Center in 1950 and earned a master's degree from Columbia University Teacher's College in 1957. She also attended Fisk University.

She was a science teacher in the Baltimore school system and commenced her nursing career as head nurse of the Neoplastic Metabolic Research Unit at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx. Being a member of a research team stimulated her respect for the value of nursing research and opened a new direction in her professional development.

Following her retirement from federal service, Ferguson was appointed Senior Fellow, at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, holding the Fagin Family Chair in Diversity.

Ferguson was an honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Nursing of the United Kingdom, the second American nurse so honored, and she was a Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing and past president.

Her awards and honors are numerous, including eight honorary doctorates. She was the recipient of two fellowships, one in physics at the University of Maryland and the other in alcohol studies at Yale University.