Minnesota Nursing magazine

Joanne Disch

A living legend

Joanne Disch received the American Academy of Nursing’s highest honor
Meleah Maynard

Joanne Disch, PhD, RN, FAAN, is one of a select group of nurses to be named a Living Legend by the American Academy of Nursing. The Academy’s highest honor, the award recognizes those who have made exceptional contributions to the field throughout their careers. The occasion, Disch said, made her reflect on all of the ways she has been involved in nursing and public policy over the last 50 years. “I would choose it all over again tomorrow because nursing is a phenomenal profession,” said Disch. “You get to make a difference in people’s lives every day, not just patients but their families and your colleagues.”

Currently serving as board chair of Advocate Aurora Health Care, a 27-hospital health system in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Disch is professor ad honorem at the University of Minnesota School of Nursing, where she once served as interim dean and director of the Katharine J. Densford International Center for Nursing Leadership. Always a strong proponent of involving more nurses as advocates, leaders and innovators in every aspect of health care, Disch has held many leadership positions in academia and public policy, including president of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses and the American Academy of Nursing, board member of the National Center for Healthcare Leadership and chair of the AARP board.

Only a small group of American Academy of Nursing fellows are recognized as Living Legends each year. As part of the rigorous selection process, each nominee must be sponsored by three other fellows, who write letters on their behalf. In Disch’s case, one of those letters came from University of Minnesota School of Nursing Dean Connie White Delaney, PhD, RN, FAAN, FACMI, FNAP, who wrote, “Joanne has dedicated her professional life to expansive and unwavering transformation of nursing practice and education, improving the safety and quality of care and care delivery, and shaping policy to advance people-centric care. She is most deserving of this prestigious award.”

For Disch, the award feels special for many reasons. Most notably it is a powerful reminder of how much nursing has enriched her life. “Nursing has allowed me to be a part of so many excellent organizations and do work that I am proud of,” said Disch. “I’ve traveled the world and created a fabulous network of friends. I’m so fortunate to be a part of this profession with the opportunity of working with so many phenomenal people.”


Disch, in 1973, talks with a surgeon about a patient’s care while she was head nurse of the cardiovascular surgery intensive care unit.
Disch, in 1973, talks with a surgeon about a patient’s care while she was head nurse of the cardiovascular surgery intensive care unit.