Nurse Community Mourns ‘Trailblazer’ Claire Fagin, PhD, RN


Claire Fagin, PhD, RN, a nurse scientist, advocate, innovator, and one of the first women to lead an Ivy League university, died on January 16 at her home in New York City. She was 97.

Fagin, a psychiatric nurse, served as interim president of the University of Pennsylvania from 1993 to 1994 — the first woman to be granted that distinction at Penn.

“I would describe Claire as a nurse visionary with the savvy to make things happen,” said Linda Aiken, PhD, RN, a nurse scientist and policy expert at the University of Pennsylvania, and Fagin’s close friend and colleague.

Inspired by her own experience of being ordered to leave the hospital during her young son’s hernia surgery, Fagin wrote her doctoral dissertation, in 1964, on the question of whether parents “rooming in” at night with their sick children would improve outcomes.

“And it did. That study changed parental visiting rights and realities in pediatrics all over the whole country,” Aiken told MedPage Today. By 1978, the majority of hospitals in the country allowed 24-hour visits in pediatric units.

Fagin led the University of Pennsylvania’s nursing school for 15 years, from 1977 to 1992. During that time, she tripled the school’s enrollment, launched a doctoral program in nursing, and carved out a reputation for the school as one known around the world for both nursing research and academics, according to the New York Times.

During her short tenure as interim president at Penn, Fagin managed one of the university’s most challenging periods, when allegations of racism and abrogations of free speech collided. A student called a group of Black sorority sisters “water buffalo,” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Penn’s current interim president J. Larry Jameson, MD, PhD, told the Inquirer that Fagin “very much served the role of healer, seeking broad community input, and implementing many of the recommendations that inform our policies of open expression, respect, and civil discourse today.”

Debbie Hatmaker, PhD, RN, the interim CEO, executive vice president, and chief nursing officer of the American Nurses Association Enterprise, praised Fagin’s influence on the nursing profession in an email to MedPage Today.

“Fagin single-handedly changed the public perception of what a nurse is and what they do by portraying them as scientists, innovators, teachers, advocates, and leaders in spaces where nurses didn’t traditionally occupy a position or have a seat at the proverbial table to yield influence,” she wrote.

Linda D. Scott, PhD, RN, president of the American Academy of Nursing (AAN), described Fagin as a “brilliant nurse scientist,” a “trailblazer,” and a “changemaker” who was named a “Living Legend” in 1998 for her contributions to society and healthcare.

“One final note is that she loved being a nurse, her passion is what drove her work and success,” Scott wrote in an email to MedPage Today, noting that during the AAN’s 50th anniversary in 2023, the academy had the chance to interview Fagin, who had this advice for future nurses: “Love what you have in nursing … because you’ll never find anything better.”

Fagin was born Claire Muriel Mintzer in 1926 to Eastern European immigrant parents who ran a grocery store and hoped she would become a dermatologist like her aunt. However, a billboard advertising the New York State Nursing Council for War Service caught her eye and changed her life forever.

She completed a bachelor’s degree in nursing at Wagner College on Staten Island in 1948, earned her master’s in psychiatric nursing from Columbia University in 1951, and obtained her doctorate in nursing from New York University in 1964.

Following her time at the University of Pennsylvania, Fagin became the founding director of the John A. Hartford Foundation’s national program on geriatric nursing.

  • Shannon Firth has been reporting on health policy as MedPage Today’s Washington correspondent since 2014. She is also a member of the site’s Enterprise & Investigative Reporting team. Follow

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Publish date : 2024-02-06 16:07:44

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