Mount Airy native Ora Lea Strickland is what you might call a trailblazer in the field of nursing. She has been responsible for the creation of institutes, academic programs, books, medical journals, and more — all because she saw a need.
Strickland is a scientist, educator and author who teaches at Emory University in Atlanta. Her career in the field of nursing has taken her to more than 36 countries, but her journey began in Surry County.
The daughter of Mount Airy residents James and Jennie Strickland, Ora Strickland graduated from J.J. Jones High School. There she was an active student, participating in the school’s band, choir, and plays. In 1966 Strickland graduated as valedictorian of her class, which was the last class at the high school before it closed. Strickland went on to study at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, where she received a bachelor’s degree in nursing.
Nursing was a field that seemed perfect for Strickland. She said, “I just like people, and I wanted to help people ... I thought I was going to be a bedside nurse for the rest of my life.”
But her life was not to follow that plan. While studying at the university, Strickland took a research course. She loved the course and decided that she wanted to be a researcher, but she didn’t want to leave the field of nursing. At that time there were no doctorate degrees for nursing. The student had visions of the nursing field being bigger. She thought a nurse could work as a bedside nurse, president, congressman, researcher, or numerous other things.
“I just got a very broad vision of what nursing could be,” said Strickland.
After graduating with her bachelor’s degree, Strickland went on to receive a master’s degree in maternal and child health nursing from Boston University and her doctor of philosophy degree in child development and family relations from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
Strickland’s dissertation gained her national attention. She did a study looking at the symptoms of expecting fathers, men whose wives were pregnant. She was the first person in the United States to systematically study the phenomenon.
“That study was very popular,” she noted.
It was publicized all over the world, and Strickland was interviewed by numerous news media sources. She even appeared on national television programs.
Over the years of studying Strickland did a lot of research related to issues in the nursing field. She went on to help set up a doctorate program at the University of Maryland, where she eventually went on to teach. She was also called in to several other universities to set up quality degree programs for nursing students.
Strickland also learned about politics after receiving her doctorate. She worked for a while as an intern with a congressman from Illinois.
“I learned how to pass information through Capitol Hill,” she noted.
This knowledge proved to be invaluable. There was no place for nurses to get funding for research at the time, so Strickland and four other colleagues initiated the National Institute of Nursing Research through the National Institutes of Health. The effort took a lot of political action and a few years of work.
“I was helping to trailblaze nursing science,” said Strickland.
Strickland went on to teach the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, N.C. Agricultural and Technical State University, and the University of Maryland School of Nursing. Now Strickland is a professor in the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing at Emory University. She is the first person to hold an endowed professorship at the school.
Prior to her jobs as a professor, Strickland held nursing positions at the Davidson County Health Department and Harlem Hospital Center in New York City.
Through her work, Strickland said, “I realized that there were so many healthcare questions left unanswered.”
She said many of the practices nurses have now need to be tested and followed up on. Strickland has conducted 10 major studies and worked on others about issues that she saw in the healthcare field. She has also mentored more than 200 nurses in their own research projects.
Initially Strickland focused her studies on topics related to women of childbearing age. Then she saw that many of the needs of aging women were being ignored.
“I saw this need that we were taking care of women and women were getting older and getting sicker,” Strickland said.
Over the years Strickland did studies on a variety of topics such as PMS, menopause, sickle-cell disease, and pregnancy.
Now Strickland is encouraging other young nurses to carry on the torch of research. Emory University has one of the first Ph.D. programs that accepts nurses who only have bachelor’s degrees.
“I saw a need for nurses to get their Ph.D.’s younger so their science career would last longer,” Strickland remarked.
In addition to her work as a nurse, researcher and professor, Strickland has written many books. She has authored 11 books and contributed to 21 books. She has won nine American Journal of Nursing Book of the Year Awards.
Strickland has been named a distinctive lecturer at many universities, served as an advisor on numerous committees, helped five African countries develop nursing practices, set up nursing journals, written a weekly column for the Baltimore Sun, and much more.
“My research and career has taken me to more than 36 countries,” said Strickland.
With so much success in her own career, Strickland hopes to encourage other nurses to achieve their dreams.
“Don’t ever think that anything is too big of a task,” she advised. “God always places people in your path that will help you achieve your goals.”
But she warns people against having the wrong motives. She said, “Success is not something that you go after for yourself ... I have done the things that I have done in my life to make life better for other people.”
“Life is all about serving others and making a positive difference in the lives of others,” she continued. “That is success.”
She said people need to look at what is needed and how they can help provide it.
“You have to be creative in everything you do,” said Strickland.
She gives that advice to the many students she mentors. Strickland said she is most proud of the achievements of her students.
“It’s like dropping a petal in the water and watching it ripple outward,” said Strickland.
Contact Meghann Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1952.