Verna Hill has been a pioneer throughout her career, dedicating herself to women
and children during her lifetime of care and service. As the first African American
student to go through both the pre-nursing and nursing program at the University
of Washington, Verna has helped to break down barriers from the very beginning of
her career as a nurse.
She paved the way for others, playing a key role in bringing more African American
nurses into the field. It’s important to note that at the time that she graduated,
many Caucasian patients did not want an African American nurse to provide them with
care. We’ve come a long way since then, and we all owe a debt to Verna for stepping
into a challenging career at a challenging time.
Verna was born and raised in Hope, Arkansas and moved to Seattle as a young adult.
She worked as a babysitter to pay her tuition at the University of Washington. While
her high school class mates had predicted that she would be a nurse, Verna felt
that her education in a poor Southern school had not prepared with the necessary
science classes to pursue nursing. However, while taking classes at the University
of Washington, she became a patient in a hospital that was short-staffed and she
began to help feed the other patients at the hospital. She knew then that she’d
found her calling in life and she changed her major to nursing immediately.
After graduating, Verna worked as a post-operative nurse, psychiatric nurse, school
nurse, public health nurse and implemented a school-age parent program in the Bellevue
Public Schools. She then returned to the University of Washington in 1979 to complete
her Masters in Nursing degree.
After completing her Masters, she joined the Seattle-King County Department of Public
Health where her work included serving as the Maternal Child Health Coordinator
and Crippled Children’s Services Supervisor for the Department. In her work with
the Maternal Child Health program, Verna became interested in eliminating the factors
that have a negative impact on the health of pregnant woman and on children. Verna
collected aggregate data that indicated the providing high quality health care to
high risk pregnant women reduced the number of babies born with low birth weight,
birth defects and reduced infant mortality. The data was shared with Senator Henry
Jackson and researchers at the University of Washington. Her work included monitoring
the health status of African American babies born in King County because of the
high incidence of low birth weights and infant mortality.
She also worked to remove the barriers to receiving care which inhibit some people
from seeking good health care, particularly high risk pregnant women. Her goal was
to provide good education and support to pregnant women, especially with public
health nurse involvement. Verna had a special interest in working with smoking mothers
and providing education on the health impact to the child.
She went on to spend seven years as the Personal Health Services Supervisor for
the Department of Public Health before retiring in 1989. But she didn’t stop working
just because she had retired. Verna became a member of the American Red Cross Disaster
Program and volunteered to serve during disasters both local and national in addition
to serving on their Health Committees.
With her depth of experience in women’s and children’s care, Verna was appointed
by the State of Washington to be a delegate to the Regional White House Conference
on Families held in Las Angeles in 1980. She was just one of two nurses among the
27 delegates from Washington. At the Regional Conference, the Washington State delegation
elected Verna to represent Washington at the National White House Conference on
Families Task Force in Washington DC where she was selected to summarize the recommendations
Verna has been a member of WSNA since she began working, continues now as a lifetime
member. In 1974, she was appointed as WSNA’s Chairperson of the Minority Affairs
Committee. During her four years of service in the position, she organized two conferences,
contacted the National State Board of Nursing and the Washington State Board of
Nursing requesting that questions regarding caring for ethnic people of color be
included on state board exams, and helped build stronger ties between WSNA and the
Mary Mahoney Professional Nurses Organization. Now, 25 years after Verna and the
Minority Affairs Committee first raised the idea, Washington State is seeking African
American input on state board exam questions.
Verna went on to serve on the WSNA Board of Directors where she was successful in
efforts to bring more minority nurses into leadership positions at WSNA. Along with
WSNA President Louise Shores, Verna was co-recipient of the very first ANA award
for having the best Affirmative Action Program in the country. She has also been
recognized by the Mary Mahoney Professional Nurses Organization for her service
and recognized by the King County Nurses Association as Nurse Citizen of the Day
on KIXI radio.