By Laura Lesley
The career of UAB School of Nursing alumna and 2018 American Academy of Nursing Living Legend Joanne Disch, PhD, RN, FAAN, (MSN 1976), spans more than 40 years and is centered on leadership in health systems, academics and public policy. Throughout her career, Disch has held numerous positions in clinical and academic nursing, while maintaining a strong commitment to professional organizations.
She served as president of AAN and of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN); and as chair of the National Board of Directors for AARP, formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons. Currently, she is chair of the boards of directors of Chamberlain University and Advocate Aurora Health.
“As a mentor of mine, Claire Fagin, once said to a group of us: ‘Nursing has been good to us.’ She was so right. I have so loved being a nurse and would choose this career again tomorrow,” Disch said. “Receiving this particular award is a tremendous honor, and feels like icing on the cake.”
Throughout her career, Disch distinguished herself as a bedside clinician, manager, clinical director, chief nursing officer and hospital vice president, as well as an educator and advocate for nurses helping lead the way in health care. Nurses are a vital part of health care, Disch said, and must be included as essential participants in health care decision-making.
“Nurses bring a very pragmatic and yet highly personalized perspective to health care. I call this ‘the nursing lens.’ Based on our knowledge and expertise, we bring a special insight to situations and problems,” Disch said. “We understand how systems work, what motivates people, how to establish meaningful relationships with a wide variety of people, and how to come up with solutions that work. Having nurses in leadership roles isn’t just a matter of parity but one of perspective.”
Disch currently is professor ad honorem at the University of Minnesota School of Nursing, where she formerly served as interim dean and director of the Katharine J. Densford International Center for Nursing Leadership. She received her master’s degree in cardiovascular nursing from the UAB School of Nursing in 1976 and is the 1994 recipient of the SON’s Distinguished Alumni Award. In 2010, she was named one of the School’s 60 Visionary Leaders, and she was appointed to the UAB School of Nursing’s National Advisory Council in 2015.