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Marking 2020: A Milestone Year

From the Dean: Fall 2020 Magazine

For many more reasons than we wish, 2020 has been a landmark year. 

We’d originally planned this issue as a celebration of the World Health Organization’s designation of 2020 as the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife—in recognition of nurses’ essential role in health care and of Florence Nightingale’s 200th birthday. Indeed, the issue still celebrates those milestones.

But of course 2020 has turned into a landmark year in other ways. COVID-19 is testing those on the health-care front lines—especially nurses—like never before in living memory. And our nation is also facing a reawakened reckoning with racism.

Early in the pandemic, anticipating the strain it would put on hospitals and nurses, we joined forces with NewYork-Presbyterian to give nursing students opportunities to serve and learn. They did everything from conduct temperature screenings at hospital entrances to delivering direct patient care under supervision. We knew this innovative partnership would have far-reaching benefits. What we didn’t know at the time was that during the 1918 flu epidemic, our school, then operated by the hospital, suspended classes and put students to work on the wards. Nursing’s—and Columbia Nursing’s—legacy of service in times of crisis is clearly enduring. 

In the first feature in this issue, students, faculty, and alumni who have bravely served on the COVID front lines tell their stories in their own words. 

The pandemic has also reminded us of the grave reality that it is the underserved who suffer worse health outcomes. In addition, war, poverty, and violence are generating more refugees than the world has ever seen; even in developed countries, health disparities persist. Florence Nightingale viewed health care as a human right. That credo, now more important than ever, has always underlain Columbia Nursing’s mission to prepare nurses to care equally for patients rich and poor, of all creeds and colors, regardless of what disease afflicts them. 

Those guiding principles are the focus of the second feature in this issue. Our Office of Global Initiatives has been leading efforts globally (and locally) to improve health care for those who need it most and to prepare students for their critical role in that work.

A related topic—Columbia’s historic commitment to diversity, in the communities we serve, among the students we enroll, among faculty we hire—is the subject of this issue’s third feature. In 1957, amid nationwide discrimination throughout health care, Columbia Nursing graduated our first African American student. A little over a decade later, we enrolled our first male and first Latino student. Today, we are pleased to report that underrepresented minorities make up 54 percent of our student body, compared to 40 percent of the U.S. population.

And our commitment to diversity in all aspects of our mission is ongoing. We partnered with Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute to support our LGBTQ students and faculty. We established the first clinic in Upper Manhattan to offer a full range of care to LGBTQ patients. And we have renewed our focus on addressing the systemic wrongs that plague people of color. In partnership with colleagues across CUIMC, we are working on all fronts to deepen our long-standing commitment to social justice and health equity.

Finally, the issue’s fourth feature delves into Columbia Nursing’s effort to buttress the nation’s dwindling supply of primary-care physicians by educating nurse practitioners at the highest level of the profession. In 1994, our leadership foresaw the need for nurses with the education and expertise to provide comprehensive, coordinated, evidence- and value-based care and launched the school’s rigorous DNP program. 

Now ranked first in the nation by U.S. News & World Report and marking its 15th anniversary, our DNP program has filled this gap and given its graduates ground-breaking career opportunities. 

As we join WHO in marking this Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, let us be grateful for the opportunities we have to contribute to the public’s health and well-being. We dedicate this issue of the magazine to the brave health-care providers everywhere battling COVID on all fronts.


Lorraine Frazier,PhD, RN, FAAN
Dean, Columbia University School of Nursing
Mary O’Neil Mundinger Professor of Nursing
Senior Vice President, Columbia University Irving Medical Center


This letter originally appeared in the Fall 2020 issue of Columbia Nursing magazine.