Helen K. Mussallem (LL.D. honoris causa ’94)

The School of Nursing is saddened to learn of the death of Dr. Helen K. Mussallem on November 9, 2012 in Ottawa.

Born in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, into a family of Lebanese heritage, Dr. Mussallem began her nursing career at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH), receiving her diploma in 1937, where she remained working in the operating room. During World War II she enlisted in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps, serving between 1943 and 1946 as a surgical nurse and lieutenant. Upon her return, she obtained a bachelor’s degree in nursing from McGill University in 1947. She then joined the teaching staff at VGH School of Nursing, obtained the degree of Master of Arts in Education from Columbia University in New York, and served as director of nursing education at VGH. She was the first Canadian nurse to obtain a PhD degree from Columbia Teachers College in 1962. She then served as executive director of the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) from 1963 to 1981.

Upon the request of the Canadian Nurses Association, she completed an influential survey on nursing education in the 1950s (Spotlight on Nursing Education[1960]) and wrote a report for the Royal Commission on Health Services in the early 1960s (Nursing education in Canada[1964]). The point was not only to find “more,” but to create “more and better qualified” nurses, according to Mussallem, and hence her strong advocacy for more baccalaureate and, eventually, more graduate nursing education. Frequently called upon for advice by the federal government, national and international organizations, including the ICN and the WHO, she completed numerous consultations around the world, especially within developing countries, influencing worldwide policy on nursing and nursing education. She received wide recognition for her contributions and holds many honours, such as Companion of the Order of Canada, Honorary Doctorates at UBC and four other universities and being the first non-governmental representative on a Canadian Government delegation at the World Health Assembly (1977). Symbolic of her determination to create the best possible education for nurses, she was a strong supporter of the UBC School of Nursing. The School was fortunate to be able to establish a fund in her name, supporting nursing students to attend international conferences and participate in exchanges. Her legacy has helped ensure that the next generation of nurses follows her example of national and international networking and nursing scholarship.

During her later years, Dr. Mussallem maintained residences in both Ottawa and Vancouver. Her last official visit to the UBC School of Nursing was on February 8, 2005, shortly following her 90th birthday. During that visit students and faculty engaged in inspiring conversations. Dr. Mussallem was particularly delighted to spend time with a group of undergraduate students, noting that their enthusiasm, critical thinking, and passion for global citizenship was a credit to the School’s commitment to excellence.