Over a 40 year-career, Barbara Thoman Curtis, RN has been active in virtually every aspect of organized nursing and has been a tireless advocate for involvement by nurses in the local, state and national legislative and political systems. Her career is a history of “firsts.”
Barbara began her commitment to nursing organizations by serving as President of the Missouri State Student Nurses Association while still a student at the Independence Sanitarium and Hospital (now Graceland University) in Independence, Missouri.
After graduation, she moved to Washington state, settling near Spokane, where she taught at two diploma nursing programs, was active in local and state politics, and the Inland Empire Nurses Association and WSNA. Barbara worked as a staff nurse in the emergency room at St. Lukes Hospital in Spokane and was asked to run for President to “fill out the ticket” – she wasn’t expected to win, but always the quintessential campaigner, Barbara worked the room like a pro and was elected President of the WSNA in 1970 – the youngest person and the first staff nurse to be elected as president of WSNA.
In 1972, Barbara was instrumental in developing the first political action committee for nurses in Washington State – PUNCH – Politically United Nurses for Consumer Health, now known as the WSNA-PAC. Based on that experience, in 1973 she was invited to spearhead the establishment of ANA’s first PAC. In 1974, N‑CAP (Nurses Coalition for Action in Politics), now the ANA-PAC, was born – and Barbara was elected as its first elected chair. In the ensuing years, ANA-PAC has grown to be one of the top ten Heath Care PACs in the country and Barbara’s message about the value of political involvement has been heard by nurses nationwide.
Committed to activism on the state as well as the national level, Barbara has also helped more than twenty state nurses associations develop their own state PACs. She has also served as a lobbyist for several SNAs and has served as a consultant and volunteer in numerous state and local political races.
In 1976, Barbara moved to Illinois and, once again, became immediately active in her community and the state nurses association. An early pioneer for Nurse Lobby Days, she and four colleagues met that year with the chief lobbyist in Illinois and the first lobby day for nurses was born. This initial effort was so successful that it was repeated the following year and was the beginning of lobby days throughout the country. While in Illinois, Barbara also became active in community affairs and political campaigns. In 1980, she received the first “Julia Chihak Award” (pronounced Chi-hack) from INA for her legislative and political activities in the state of Illinois.
In 1988, Barbara returned to Missouri and once again became active in the state nurses association and her local community. She served on Congressman Allan Wheat’s Advisory Committee on Health Care, was elected a precinct committee person, a representative to the state party convention, and was chosen as an alternate delegate to the National Democratic convention. Always an advocate for access to care, in 1993 she and her daughter took part in the ANA and Families USA sponsored “Ambulance Drive for Health Care Reform” by driving an old ambulance in a caravan from North Carolina to Washington DC on the last leg of a series of rallies for health care reform held across the country.
In 1994,she was chosen by ANA as one of two individuals to spend three months in Washington, DC as a liaison with the White House on health care legislation. She was also the chief coordinator and member of the White House advance team for a health care rally attended by both President and Mrs Clinton and Vice President and Mrs. Gore. As a result of that and other activities, Barbara was later invited several times to events at the White House, the highlight of which was a State dinner honoring the president of Greece – her mother’s birthplace.
In addition to her involvement in state nurses associations in Washington, Illinois, Missouri, and now Maryland and the District of Columbia, Barbara has been active in ANA more than forty years. Barbara was first elected a delegate to the ANA convention in 1968, and despite recurring health problems, has not missed an ANA House of Delegates meeting since. Over the years, she has served in numerous national positions, including a four-year term as a member of the ANA Board of Directors and two terms as ANA Secretary. In 1996, she was elected as member and chair of the ANA Nominating Committee. She is currently serving her second term as chair of the ANA Committee on By-laws.
A sought-after speaker and teacher, Barbara has presented to dozens of state and district nurses associations and universities throughout the country and has testified before several state legislatures on health care issues. She has given testimony to the Democratic Platform Committee and has testified on a number of occasions before Congress. In addition, she has served as leader of People to People tours to Europe and Japan. In both cases, her group engaged in dialogue with student and professional nurses in the host countries about health care issues in common.
Because of her tireless efforts on behalf of her community, nursing and healthcare, Barbara has received numerous honors and awards. In 1974, she was awarded the ANA Honorary Recognition Award by WSNA. In 1984, the American Nurses Foundation awarded the first Barbara Curtis Scholarship in her honor. In 1992, the ANA established the Barbara Thoman Curtis Award, which is given by ANA every two years to a nurse who has made significant contributions to nursing practice and health policy through political and legislative activity. In 1994, Barbara was named the first recipient of that award.
Since 1995, Barbara has lived in Maryland where she remains active. She is involved in local issues related to accessibility for the handicapped and last year, Barbara was ordained as a Priest in the Community of Christ Church. She is now spending her “leisure” time as a grandmother to her four grandchildren, three of whom live in Switzerland.