Dr. Luther Christman, Nursing Pioneer, Passes Away at 96

He devoted his career to promoting the importance of nursing and ensuring that nurses gain both the education and the respect they deserve.

Dr. Luther ChristmanThe University of Michigan School of Nursing was saddened to learn of the passing of Dr. Luther Christman, a pioneer in the field of nursing who advocated for higher salaries for nursing, sought racial equality in the nursing field, and became the first male dean of a School of Nursing. Dr. Christman was a research associate and associate professor in psychiatric nursing at the University of Michigan from 1963 to 1967. His contributions to nursing, both here in Michigan and across the nation, will not be forgotten.

Luther P. Christman, was born in Summit Hill, Pennsylvania on February 26, 1915, to Elmer and Elizabeth Christman. He graduated from the Pennsylvania Hospital School of Nursing for Men in 1939, and married nurse Dorothy Black (Dorothy Christman) the same year. They had three children, Gary James, Judith Ann, and Lillian Jane.

Christman received a baccalaureate from Temple University in 1948. He received an Ed.M. in Clinical Psychology from the Philadelphia Psychoanalytic Institute. In 1953, he became Director of Nursing at Yankton State Hospital, Yankton, South Dakota. Some of his suggestions for changes in nursing education and practice arose from his experiences at the hospital. He was a proponent of practicing nurses teaching nursing students, or the teacher-practitioner role. He encouraged the use of administrative assistants for office management and non-nursing tasks to allow more time for patient care for nurses. He was a strong advocate of primary nursing, or the presence of a primary nurse who would care for a single patient throughout their stay.

In 1956, he took a position with the Michigan Department of Mental Health. He was responsible for the development of the nursing programs in the state hospitals in Michigan and in the state’s training schools for the mentally retarded. In 1963, he accepted a position as associate professor of psychiatric nursing at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He earned his Ph.D. in Sociology and Anthropology at Michigan State University. He became dean of the nursing school and director of nursing at Vanderbilt University in 1967. There, he worked to rebuild the school, acquiring substantial funding, developing nursing as an applied science and introducing the practitioner-teacher model.

In 1972, he became the first dean of the Rush University College of Nursing and vice president for nursing affairs at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center. With strong administrative support, he moved to implement all the components for his plan for nursing, which would come to be known as the Rush Model for Nursing. The plan included the integration of practice, education and research; a quality assurance program; unit decentralization; levels of practice; primary nursing; the practitioner-teacher role; and a self-governing professional staff organization. Programs offering the clinical doctorate, doctor of nursing degree (entry level) and the combined PhD–DNSc were initiated.

Christman helped establish the National Male Nurse Association in 1974, which became the American Assembly for Men in Nursing in 1981. He was a strong supporter for the recruitment of male nurses, believing that diversity could make the nursing profession stronger. A gift from the John L. and Helen Kellogg Foundation in 1979 funded at Rush the first National Center for Excellence in Nursing in the United States.

Christman retired in 1987. In a long and distinguished career, Luther had published many scholarly works and participated as an active member and officer of numerous organizations. He was especially devoted to Sigma Theta Tau and its International Center for Nursing Scholarship. He received, in 1981, the Edith Moore Copeland Founders Award for Creativity, and the first Lifetime Distinguished Achievement Award given by the honorary society in 1991. In 2004, Christman was inducted into the American Nurses Association’s Hall of Fame. In 2007, the American Nurses Association established the Luther Christman Award. The American Assembly for Men in Nursing began awarding its own Luther Christman Award in 1975 to people who have helped further the cause of men in nursing.