Nursing Legend Mary Johnson Retires from Frontline Nursing

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Minister of Health and Social Development, Dr. the Hon. Hubert Minnis (right) and Minister of State for Social Development, the Hon. Loretta Butler-Turner present outgoing Director of Nursing Ms. Mary Johnson with a plaque in appreciation for her years of dedicated and exemplary service to the nursing profession, the Ministry of Health and the people of The Bahamas. (Photo/Patrick Hanna)

By: Matt Maura

NASSAU, Bahamas – Nursing legend, pioneer and trailblazer Mary Johnson has officially retired from frontline nursing, leaving behind a legacy said to be hard to duplicate or surpass.

Ms. Johnson entered the nursing profession as a trainee nurse in 1960 at the tender age of 17, and at a time when “the face of nursing in The Bahamas” was predominantly British.

Almost forty-eight years later, she leaves a trail that will be hard to match following her official retirement.

Ms. Johnson, who has been credited with changing the landscape of nursing in The Bahamas by promoting excellence in service, standards, education and training, was honoured at a Gala Retirement Banquet by the Ministry of Health and Social Development on Saturday at the British Colonial Hilton Hotel.

Described as “quiet, unassuming and caring,” Ms. Johnson recorded a number of firsts during her storied nursing career in The Bahamas, which concluded with her retirement as Director of Nursing in the Ministry of Health, a position she held for 14 years.

She was the first nurse to complete the Registered Nurse Programme in three years, after all of her colleagues whom she entered the programme had dropped out; was the first of two Bahamian nurses deployed as Clinical Teachers at the Princess Margaret Hospital School of Nursing in 1968, and was the first Bahamian female nurse to obtain post-basic certification in Psychiatric Nursing in 1969.

She was subsequently granted a Fellowship by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to attend the Advanced Nursing Education Programme at the University of the West Indies in 1972/73 which later led to her becoming the first Bahamian Psychiatric Tutor. This enabled her to have “major impact” in the structuring and development of the field of Psychiatric Nursing in The Bahamas.

A staunch proponent of education, Ms. Johnson achieved numerous academic and professional qualifications including a Baccalaureate Degree in Education from the University of Miami and a Baccalaureate of Science Degree in Nursing and a Master of Arts Degree in Rehabilitation and Counseling from the University of South Florida.

“Ms. Johnson is truly a nursing legend and as the Minister of Health and Social Development, I thank her for her years of committed and faithful service to the Commonwealth of The Bahamas,” said Minister of Health and Social Development, Dr. the Hon. Hubert Minnis.

“She has served well and has served with distinction and her successor will indeed have big shoes to fill.”

Admired throughout the nursing profession and the educational system for her commitment to education and training, Ms. Johnson has played a “significant role” in the development of many of the programmes many young, nursing students in The Bahamas have access to. She has also received high acclaim for the number of nurses who have been afforded training opportunities both locally and abroad.

During her tenure as Director of Nursing, the Nursing Cadet Programme was launched (1996) to assist in recruiting candidates for direct entry into the Nursing Programme at the College of The Bahamas, and the Critical Care Nursing Programme, Community Health Nursing Programme and the Basic Trained Clinical Nurse Programmes were also transferred to the College of The Bahamas.

Additionally, selected students entering the nursing programme at the Associate’s Degree and Trained Clinical Nurse Certificate Levels, following further upgrades, were allowed to transfer into the Bachelor’s Degree programme at C.O.B. in New Providence and Grand Bahama.

Following the training of five Registered Nurses in Clinical Teaching at the University of the West Indies in 2000, the Nursing Preceptor-ship Programme was introduced to assist in the mentoring of nursing students, interns and new graduates assigned to the clinical areas and agencies of the Ministry of Health and the Public Hospitals Authority.

It was also during Ms. Johnson’s tenure (2001) that the Future Nurses of The Bahamas programme was launched. The programme targets students from grades 5-9.

Ms. Johnson was also instrumental in obtaining an increase in the stipend for nursing students from $125 to $475 which brought the stipend on par with that of Teacher Education students. She also played a significant role in advocating for increases in salaries and benefits for nurses and was “truly a champion” for the advancement and recognition of nurses.

Ms. Johnson empowered nurses at all levels to provide quality service, putting patients first. This resulted in the launch of the 100-Day Challenge at which time D.O.N. Johnson encouraged nurses throughout The Bahamas to “spare no effort” in making the necessary changes in their work areas to ensure that the best quality of healthcare and services was delivered to their clients.

It was also during this period that the National Nurses of the Year Awards were established in the Registered Nurse and Trained Clinical Nurse categories.

“This tender-hearted lady has a soft spot for the poor and downtrodden and does not think twice about using her personal funds to assist others,” Dr. Minnis said. “Many nurses and students have been the recipients of her generosity.”

Dr. Minnis said Ms. Johnson “never lost the common touch” despite all of her accomplishments in rising to the pinnacle of her profession both locally and internationally.

He said Ms. Johnson’s influence and contributions to the nursing profession and the Ministry of Health are “very much evident” in the many policies and systems she helped to put in place.

“Ms. Johnson’s vast and extensive educational and professional acquisitions more than adequately prepared her for the multifaceted roles she performed as Director of Nursing for the Commonwealth of The Bahamas and resulted in her becoming a storehouse of knowledge which she willingly and generously shared,” Dr. Minnis said.

“The Ministry of Health and Social Development, the healthcare system, the nursing profession and indeed the entire Bahamas, have been truly enriched by the service of this nursing icon.”