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U-M School of Nursing announces 2021 Distinguished Alumni Award winner

Joyce Thompson video screenshot

The University of Michigan School of Nursing and the school’s Distinguished Alumni Award Selection Committee are excited to announce Joyce (Beebe) Thompson, Dr.P.H., RN, CNM, FAAN, FACNM, as the winner of this year’s Distinguished Alumni Award.

Thompson, who earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing and Master of Public Health degrees from U-M in 1964 and 1971, respectively, is an internationally recognized nurse ethicist, researcher, educator and practitioner. Her distinguished career reflects a lifelong passion for women’s health and human rights throughout the world.

“My initial nursing education at the University of Michigan made such a difference in what I was able to do in my career,” Thompson said. “I view myself as an international nurse and midwife, and the U-M School of Nursing is the best place to start one’s nursing career and be prepared to take on the health of the world.”

Thompson was nominated for the 2021 Distinguished Alumni Award by U-M Professor Emerita Shaké Ketefian, Ed.D., RN, FAAN.

“Dr. Thompson’s efforts revolutionized education and practice in her field, especially in resource-limited countries,” said Ketefian. “Her spirit of creativity, innovation and dedication to underserved populations continues to this day, and I cannot think of a more deserving candidate for this award.”

Thompson grew up in a small mid-Michigan farming community and has gone on to make an impact across the world as one of the few leaders in her field who has successfully modeled nursing and midwifery practice, teaching and administration. She has developed or directed nurse-midwifery education in several institutions in the United States and abroad, leading a range of progressive educational and practice improvements.

“Dr. Thompson’s contributions to the profession are far-reaching, with a passion for the rights and health of women, ethical nursing and midwifery practice,” said U-M School of Nursing Dean Patricia D. Hurn, Ph.D., RN, FAAN. “The Distinguished Alumni Award is a special recognition of accomplishment, and we are incredibly proud to honor Dr. Thompson this year.”

Professor emerita at both the University of Pennsylvania and Western Michigan University, Thompson’s career as an educator began in 1973, when she directed the certificate nurse-midwifery program at SUNY-Downstate Medical Center. She led the graduate maternity nursing/midwifery program at Columbia University from 1974 to 1979 before developing, implementing and directing the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing’s graduate program in nurse-midwifery for the next 20 years, followed by two years as associate dean for graduate studies and professional development. Thompson received Penn’s Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching in recognition of her excellence as an educator.

In 2002, Thompson became the first Lacey Endowed Professor of Community Health Nursing at the Western Michigan University School of Nursing, serving twice as the school’s interim director. She also taught graduate courses in ethics, nurse-midwifery, international health and education at Tenshi College in Sapporo, Japan, exemplifying a career that has always carried a global focus.

In 1971, after returning from a medical mission in Chile providing care to the Araucanian population, Thompson joined the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM). She went on to serve the organization in numerous capacities —  including president — for more than 20 years, receiving ACNM’s Hattie Hemschemeyer Award for Distinguished Service in 1987 and becoming a Founding Fellow in 1993.

Thompson also served as an elected member of the International Confederation of Midwives’ (ICM) Board of Management, including multiple terms as both deputy director and director. As an ICM director and educational consultant, she led the development of the organization’s International Code of Ethics for Midwives, Essential Competencies for Basic Midwifery Practice and Global Standards for Midwifery Education. From 2001 to 2007, Thompson helped inform global health policy as vice chair of the World Health Organization’s Global Advisory Group on Nursing and Midwifery. She continues to serve as an international consultant in public health, midwifery, women’s health, health care ethics and human rights, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.

“When I started my international work, I realized the incredible depth of knowledge and experience I gained in the U-M nursing program,” Thompson recalled.  “We were encouraged to learn, but most of all, we were encouraged to think for ourselves. Without that encouragement, I doubt I would have been able to work with colleagues in low-resource countries for more than 50 years, supporting health care workers around the world.”

In 2007, Thompson received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Dundee, Scotland, following her first honorary doctorate from SUNY Downstate in 1995.

In recent years, Thompson has enjoyed spending more time with family, including her stepsons and daughters-in-law, grandsons and great-grandchildren, nieces and grandnieces, as well as her brother and two sisters. Thompson is active in her local United Methodist Church and continues her lifelong mission of making a positive difference in the world.