Shirley Hester’s professional life has been dedicated to advancing the health of women in Alabama.


Shirley Hester recently was inducted into the Capstone College of Nursing Hall of Fame. Her role in improving women’s health care at UAB and in Alabama is expansive.

“I love it. I love what I do,” says the nurse practitioner in OB/Gyn. “Even as a little girl, I always wanted to be a nurse. I’ve never wanted to do anything else.”

Hester was honored recently for her achievement in health care with induction into the Capstone College of Nursing Hall of Fame. The hall of fame honors those whose work and accomplishments have brought honor and fame to the profession of nursing and the State of Alabama.

Hester attended a black-tie event in Tuscaloosa as part of the induction ceremony.  “It was a tremendous honor that I will treasure always,” she says.

Teacher, researcher
Hester’s role in improving women’s health care at UAB and in Alabama is expansive. She’s been a teacher of nurses, a health-care provider for patients and a front-line researcher in the ALTS cervical dysplasia and HPV vaccine trials.

Hester was a major contributor to the development and implementation of the OB/Gyn Nurse Practitioner Program at UAB. In fact, she was a pioneer. She was one of the first OB/Gyn nurse practitioners in Alabama, working with others to start a nurse practitioner program to train rural, public-health nurses to perform health screenings and physical exams, including pap smears.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, nurse practitioners began going to rural Alabama, working in doctor’s offices, rural clinics and health departments to aid women who had limited access to the proper health care they needed. This was during a time when Alabama had one of the highest death rates for cervical cancer.

“Training other nurse practitioners has been the thing I’m most proud of in my nursing career,” she says. “It is very rewarding to see them out there helping women across the state every day.”

Hester was the clinical director of the OB/Gyn nurse practitioner program at UAB for 10 years until it moved to the School of Nursing. She focused her attention on clinics and research following that transition.

Her research studies primarily have focused on oral contraceptives and the prevention of cervical dysplasia. She has been involved in two groundbreaking research trials. The ALTS study changed the standards for pap-smear screening, and the Merck HPV vaccine Gardisil received FDA approval after clinical trials in which Hester administered the vaccine to patients.

Edward Partridge, M.D., director of the UAB’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, says Hester’s role in developing the first colposcopy program in the state — to her work in the clinical trials with the HPV vaccine — has helped save lives.

“Shirley literally contributed to the first attempts at controlling a major cause of cancer deaths in Alabama to its potential eradication with vaccines,” Partridge says. “She has made a remarkable contribution to research in pre-invasive and invasive cervical cancer.”

Administered HPV vaccine
Hester began research work with HPV in the early 1980s and administered the vaccine to women during the clinical trials that ended 2005.  Merck’s experimental vaccine targeting the four strains of the sexually transmitted HPV that is most likely to cause cervical cancer or genital warts was 89 percent effective in preventing infection with the viral strains and 100 percent effective in preventing cervical cancer, precancerous lesions or genital warts.

Hester continues to see patients on two other HPV studies and helps them manage their health programs. She recruits patients to the program, schedules them and provides the care they need. She doesn’t plan to slow down any time soon.

“I’ve always worked,” she says. “I love what I do and want to continue to do it.”