Barbara Nichols, DNSc (hon), MS, RN, FAAN, is one of the 50 most influential people involved in worldwide health initiatives, according to the Paul G. Rogers Society for Global Health Research. It was no surprise then, when the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS) International, Inc. awarded Ms. Nichols its 2017 International Distinguished Leadership Award. A former board president and CEO of CGFNS, she is known for her pioneering work in furthering opportunities for minorities and for nursing globally.

Barbara Nichols

Ms. Nichols was born at the end of the Great Depression and raised in Maine where she pursued a nursing career. She recalls, “I was born in the late 1930s when jobs were limited for blacks, so practically speaking, nursing was a good option.” Ms. Nichols graduated from nursing school in 1959. She worked as a medical surgical nurse, head nurse, nursing instructor, and as a consultant to innumerable organizations.

Ms. Nichols’ professional career spans four decades. It includes leadership and policy-making positions in professional associations and health related organizations. Throughout her career, Ms. Nichols championed equality and diversity in all forms. She remains a strong advocate for minority inclusion in the US and international nursing professions. In 1970, Ms. Nichols became the first African-American elected president of the Wisconsin Nurses Association (WNA). And, in 1979,  the American Nurses Association (ANA) elected her as its president. Ms. Nichols was the first African-American to hold this national leadership position.

International Interest

According to Nichols, her international interest began with her first trip to an international nursing conference in Nairobi, Kenya. While there, she realized how fortunate American nurses are. “Our issues are valid, but they pale in comparison to the working conditions in other countries. Nursing without equipment or medications offers special challenges most American nurses will never have.”

For five years, she consulted with the W. K. Kellogg Foundation on professional nursing in several African countries. These included Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, and South Africa. As a result, she helped develop nurse and medical practice acts, introduced continuing education, and strengthened the role of professional nursing. “American nursing is viewed as the gold standard,” Nichols says.

CGFNS has improved the application process for nurses wishing to practice in the US. In fact, 90 percent of nurses who pass the prequalifying exam, pass the NCLEX. Ms. Nichols introduced VisaScreen, a process for reviewing candidates’ transcripts and home country nursing program. VisaScreen ensures that the nurse’s education is on par with American educational programs. Ms. Nichols explains, “CGFNS serves two goals. It protects the American public by ensuring nurses who come here to practice have adequate education. Additionally, it protects nurses who immigrate from exploitation by US employers.”

Barbara Today

Currently, Ms. Nichols spends three weeks a month in Wisconsin and one week in Philadelphia at the CGFNS offices. Additionally, she works with the American National Standards Institute and as a fellow in the American Academy of Nurses. She received the Mary Mahoney Award and, in 2007, served as a global health ambassador for Research America.

Ms. Nichols embodies the spirit of nursing at every level. She overcame obstacles and works tirelessly to ensure high standards of nursing. We are delighted to bring her story to you. We’d love to learn about Everyday Heroes you know. Please share their stories on our Facebook page.

~Michael and Frida Donner