Dorsye Russell established her reputation as a strong leader early in her 50-year professional career. She was the only Virginia nurse to have served as president of the Virginia Nurses Association, the Virginia League for Nursing, and the Virginia Organization of Nurse Executives. One of the early masters-prepared nurse educators, Russell shaped nursing programs in Fredericksburg, Lynchburg, Martinsville, and Staunton.
"Dorsye E. Russell shared her professional knowledge, her compassion for others, and her love for life with many individuals. My hope is that I have shared some of what Dorsye taught me about nursing and life." - Priscilla Job Shuler, RN, PhD, Russell Hall of Fame Nomination, 2009
Dorsye E. Russell attended Richmond Professional Institute (then a Division of the College of William and Mary and now Virginia Commonwealth University) for two years before entering the School of Nursing at the Medical College of Virginia where she earned a bachelor's degree in 1943. For the next seven years she remained at the MCV and St. Philip Hospitals in various nursing administrative positions. She was also an assistant professor in the School of Nursing. During those years she completed the requirement and was awarded a Master of Arts degree in Nursing Administration at Teachers College, Columbia University.
Russell left the Medical College of Virginia Hospitals in 1953 to become the Director of Nurses at King's Daughter's Hospital. In addition to her responsibilities in that position, she was a strong supporter of the practical nursing educational programs in the area and facilitated the use of the hospital for clinical experiences of the students in the program. In 1959, Russell left Staunton to move to Lynchburg where she was director of nursing and nursing education for Lynchburg General Hospital. Russell went to Patrick Henry Community College in 1970 where she was the first program head for the associate degree in nursing program. She used her many and varied contacts across Virginia to develop a strong program.
In 1965, Governor Albertus S. Harrison, Jr., appointed Russell to the first of two five-year terms to the Virginia Board of Nursing. An active member of the board, she served as vice president and played a unique role in the activities leading to the repeal and reenactment of the Virginia Nurse Practice Act of 1970. She also contributed substantially to the repeal and reenactment of the Regulations of the Board of Nursing and to the agreements that lead to the change in Virginia law to provide for the certification of nurses in advanced practice. Russell represented the Virginia Nurses Association on the Governor's Committee on Nursing from 1966 to 1969. This Committee was appointed by Governor Mills Godwin to develop and "accurate view of the challenges and needs of the nursing profession in Virginia."
In 1972, Russell returned to nursing administration as Vice President for Nursing at Mary Washington Hospital. In that role, she facilitated the clinical experience for students from the Germanna Community college associate degree program as well as the Fredericksburg Area School of Practical Nursing. Although she officially retired from the position of Vice President for Nursing at Mary Washington Hospital in 1984, Russell continued employment there into 1989. She served in a liaison position with the chief executive officer to oversee the completion and publication of the book Ninety Years of Caring. She also assisted with the coordination of clinical experience. In her retirement, Russell continued to serve on the Advisory Committee for the associate degree in nursing program at Germanna Community College. She also supported the need for nurses to pursue higher education and urged the Dean at the Virginia Commonwealth University to bring classes to Fredericksburg to allow registered nurses to pursue the baccalaureate degree. She used her telephone to maintain her knowledge of the progress of nursing in Virginia and the scanner she had in her apartment to keep up with what was going on in Fredericksburg.
Throughout her career Russell was active in a variety of professional activities and participated as a committee member, officer, consultant, and advisor. She served as president of the Virginia Nurses Association, the Virginia League for Nursing and the Virginia Organization of Nurse Executives. In 1985, the Virginia Nurses Association appointed Russell to serve with Patricia Cushnie from the Virginia Organization of Nurse Executives and Marcia Dake from the Virginia Association of Colleges of Nursing to develop bylaws for a group of nursing organizations that had been meeting informally for a number of years. The new group, The Alliance of Nursing Organizations and Specialty Groups of Virginia, formally organized under the proposed bylaws to foster communication and collaboration among Virginia's nursing organizations.
Shortly after her graduation from nursing school Russell began her lifelong commitment to the Medical College of Virginia Alumni Association of Virginia Commonwealth University. She served as a member of both the Board of Trustees and the Nursing Division Board of Directors. She also served on numerous committees including the Nursing Alumni Centennial Steering Committee. In 1984, Russell was named the Outstanding Nurse Alumnus by the Nursing Division. She established an endowment at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Nursing known as the Dorsye Russell Leadership Fund in 1996 to support those students developing professional leadership skills. Russell was a sustained distinguished member of the Sadie Health Cabaniss Society of the Virginia Commonwealth School of Nursing.
Russell has been recognized by the Virginia Nurses Association for her many contributions to nursing. In 1982 she received the Nancy Vance Pin Award, the most prestigious award given by the organization. As part of its Centennial Celebration in 2000, the Virginia Nurses named Russell as one of fifty Pioneer Nurses in the Commonwealth. Dorsye Russell made significant contributions to the development of nursing in the Virginia during the second half of the 20th Century. She knew and respected many of the leaders who preceded her and built on the foundation they established. A consensus builder, skillful negotiator, and great compromiser, Russell served as a role model and mentor for many of Virginia's nurse leaders who followed her.