Hazel Johnson-Brown had known since childhood that she wanted to be a nurse. She applied to her hometown college- the West Chester School of Nursing in Pennsylvania, but was rejected because she was black. Therefore, she went to New York City in 1947 and enrolled in the Harlem Hospital School of Nursing.
Upon graduating, she began working at the Philadelphia Veteran’s Hospital in 1953 but soon joined the U.S. Army in 1955, shortly after President Truman had banned segregation in the military. She served on the female medical-surgical ward at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, then on an obstetrical unit at the 8169th Hospital in Camp Zama, Japan before her two-year term was finished.
Then, in 1958, Hazel participated in the Army Nurse Corps’ Registered Nurse Student Program that offered financial assistance for those with a nursing diploma who were pursuing a bachelor’s degree. She earned her degree in 1959 and upon returning to the Army, was assigned to the Madigan General Hospital in Washington.
She later became qualified as an operating room nurse, went on to Columbia University’s Teachers’ College to earn a master’s degree in nursing education under the Army Nurse Corps’ aegis in 1963, then taught operating room students at Letterman Army Hospital until 1966.
For the next six years, Johnson served as the first nurse on staff at the Medical Research and Development Command, where she was most recognized as the director of the Field Sterilization Equipment Development Project.
In 1973, the Army selected her to obtain a Ph.D. in education administration at the Catholic University of America. This led to her become the director and assistant dean of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Nursing in 1976. In 1979, the Army nominated Johnson to become the 16th chief of the Army Nurse Corps, along with a promotion to brigadier general– she was the first ever African–American woman to achieve this rank.
As the Chief of the Army Nurse Corps, Brig. Gen Johnson oversaw operations in eight Army medical centers, fifty-six community hospitals and one hundred forty-three freestanding clinics in the United States, Japan, Korea, Germany, Italy, and Panama.
Some of Brig. Gen Johnsons achievements before retiring in 1983 included making policies for academic scholarships for ROTC nursing students, creating standards of practice for the Army Nurse Corps, and implementing quality assurance measures. She also arranged the first Phyllis Verhonick Nursing Research Symposium, created pathways for the future of the Nurse Corps and laid foundation for expanded involvement of Reserve and National Guard nurses in top management positions.
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