Inspiring Member Stories

Afaf Ibrahim Meleis

PhD, DrPS (hon), FAAN

It is impossible to craft a comprehensive profile for Dr. Afaf I. Meleis. Her contributions to advancing nursing’s visibility are so widespread, the impact on thousands of mentees so varied, and the number of accolades too high to count. Her lengthy and impressive resume is perhaps best simplified by citing her most recent honors: the Nell J. Watts Lifetime Achievement in Nursing Award, bestowed by Sigma Theta Tau International, and the Living Legend distinction, granted by the American Academy of Nursing. A living legend, indeed!

What has driven this nursing phenom to such levels of achievement? A brief summary of Dr. Meleis’ vitae is helpful in understanding how she became recognized as an internationally renowned nurse scientist and medical sociologist. Meleis received her undergraduate degree from the University of Alexandria in Egypt before moving to the University of California, Los Angeles, where she received a master's degree in nursing, as well as a master's degree and PhD in sociology. She joined the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing as its dean in the winter of 2002 after serving more than 30 years as a professor at the University of California at San Francisco and holding visiting professorships in Southeast Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East.

Undeniably, Dr, Meleis’ personal experience as an immigrant, coupled with her worldwide (in more than 40 countries) consultations, invited keynotes, and mentorship of hundreds of students, faculty, clinicians, and administrators, has driven her “stature in the profession [to be] without geographic limits,” says Azita Emami, PhD, MSN, RNT, RN, FAAN, one of Meleis’ mentees at the University of Washington. “She brought forward, long before most thought about it, the need for nursing education in the U.S. to be more inclusive of the diverse populations within our borders and more sensitive to the cultural and other differences nurses would encounter as they treated patients who came from many countries and many cultures.”

“[She] used her international perspective to educate and help change the awareness, policies, and viewpoints of organizations ranging from American Academy of Nursing (AAN) to Sigma Theta Tau International (STTI),” continues Emami. “It was Afaf Meleis who helped establish the expert panels on culturally competent healthcare and international nursing, and it was Afaf who co-founded the International Network for Doctoral Education in Nursing, just two of many pioneering efforts in which Afaf defined new opportunities for the profession and then created the road map for implementing them.”

“Nursing’s history would be less rich. Nursing would be a lesser profession if Afaf Meleis had not immigrated to the United States from Egypt to do graduate work at UCLA and remained here to pursue her career,” says Nancy Fugate Woods, PhD, RN, FAAN, professor and dean emeritus from the University of Washington School of Nursing. “Her situation as an immigrant led to a career-long vision that was global in scope, and inspired her to pursue research and advocacy on behalf of women’s health issues.”

STTI is proud to include Dr. Afaf I. Meleis among its prestigious Nell J. Watts Lifetime Achievement in Nursing Award recipients.

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