Barba Edwards: Continuing a Legacy of Service

During Black History Month, AORN is honoring black nurses who have made and are making a difference for their patients, their colleagues, and their communities. One African American nurse who has left a lasting legacy of service in perioperative nursing, equality and justice is Barba Edwards, RN, MA.

Barba EdwardsEdwards was AORN’s first and only African American board president. She served the Association in this role during the 1976-1977 presidential term and gave years of volunteer service to the Association before and after her presidency. Beyond nursing, Edwards spent her lifetime inspiring others to be as brave and bold and giving as she was.

A Life to Be Inspired By

Born to a family of very modest means and having a cleft palette that caused a speech impediment created challenges for Edwards growing up, explained her niece Pamela Yancy. “However, she overcame these challenges due to her extraordinary intellect and her insatiable drive, which led her to succeed in advancement to incredible goals.”

Edwards earned her nursing education through St. Joseph’s School of Nursing and Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., where she was born and spent her life. She worked her way to becoming director or surgery at Archbishop Bergan Mercy Hospital where she inspired staff to be innovative in their practice and drove lasting changes in patient care, such as creating birthing rooms for mothers, and supporting family involvement in patient care.

Edwards was a big believer in communication, even earning her Master’s in Communications while working as a surgical services coordinator. As she wrote in a 1971 AORN Journal article on the importance of patient communication, “Communication with the patient … will determine, to a great extent, the patient’s overall behavioral response; including his reaction to anesthesia and the amount of postoperative pain and discomfort he will experience.”

She was also driven to advance social justice, taking an active role in the League of Women Voters in her community where she was known for her work to collect data on divorce and abuse court proceedings for women to highlight unfair rulings.

Beyond her public life, Edwards sought to bring family and friends together though regular gatherings punctuated by her most amazing cooking and baking, especially her renowned recipe for brownies, Yancy shared.

Advancing Education for Nurses of Color

When Edwards passed in 2017, at the age of 87, her family knew she would want to keep giving and worked with The AORN Foundation to establish the Barba Edwards Scholarship to help other students and nurses of color to realize their educational goals and dreams.

“Barba was keenly aware that there were many other young people with the drive, intellect and tenacity to get the job done, but who were held back by financial restraints,” Yancy noted. “To know that some of these deserving young people would be helped by her efforts and a scholarship in her name would have meant the world to her. She would have been happy and inspired to pass on a portion of her blessings to those that would continue her legacy of service.”

Yancy says one issue Edwards was passionate about long after retirement was the need for more providers of color who could offer connection through communication and background to help advance health for minority patients.

“Barba left behind a legacy of success that I hope can inspire others. She truly believed, as the song says, ‘if I can see it, I can be it’.” In her legacy through this scholarship, I hope nurses can ‘see’ and ‘be’ what they know they can achieve.”

Donate Now

With a pledge to strengthen diversity, equity, and inclusion, AORN advocates for a diverse perioperative workforce through unique opportunities such as the Barba Edwards Scholarship to award students or nurses of color pursuing a Bachelors, Masters or Doctoral degree. So far over $50,000 have been raised for the Barba Edwards scholarship fund to provide financial support for four nurses of color currently pursuing academic nursing degrees in the 2021-2022 school year.

The AORN Foundation has set a new goal to raise an additional $10,000 this year directly for the Barba Edwards Scholarship fund.

During Black History Month, plan to support nurses of color and donate to the Barba Edwards Scholarship fund. To donate visit AORN Foundation Donation - AORN Foundation and note that you would like your donation to go toward the Barba Edwards Scholarship.