Verna Hill, MN, BSN, RN 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 on health.
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.