Women of Achievement
for a woman who solved a glaring problem despite
widespread inertia, apathy or ignorance around her:
When Doris Walker entered the medical field more than 40 years ago, she had two barriers to overcome: her color and her weight.
She graduated from Manassas High School with very high grades. She left Memphis after graduation to work in Chicago then moved to Milwaukee in 1945. Wanting to become a Licensed Practical Nurse, she applied to the Milwaukee Institute of Technology for an interview. After reviewing her application, the school did not believe the high grades from her high school transcript could be hers. They gave her a battery of academic and psychological tests, which she successfully completed.
Still not satisfied, a counselor told her that she should be a secretary. “To whom?” she asked. “Just give me a chance and if I can’t do it, I’ll leave.” That determination resulted in her becoming the first black student in the practical nursing program. She studied hard to make sure she did well and graduated at the top of her class. She was such a good nurse that a Milwaukee hospital, which never had a black person on staff, offered her a job.
Doris later worked in New Jersey and Detroit. In 1954, she returned to Memphis and began work as an LPN at the old John Gaston Hospital. When she learned of the E.H. Crump School for Black Nurses, she decided to pursue her dream of becoming a registered nurse. Once again, despite her excellent academic record, getting accepted was her biggest challenge. Even though she made the highest scores on the entrance exams, she was told that unless she lost weight she couldn’t enroll. She accomplished this and went on to graduate as valedictorian of the first class of black R.N.s.
After graduation Doris went to work at the City of Memphis Hospital as an R.N. She worked her way up through the ranks to become the first black operating room supervisor, the first person to supervise in-service training for all special care units and then the first assistant director of nursing over special care units.
In 1974, Doris was appointed acting associate administrator of nursing but did not have the academic qualifications to be permanently assigned the position. Determination again came into play and she went back to school, this time to Memphis State University. Married, she worked, raised her child and obtained both her bachelor’s degree in health services administration in 1977 and a masters of public administration in 1983.
After completing her bachelor’s degree, she became director of nursing at the Shelby County Health Care Center. There she worked to help the institution raise its standards. In 1980, she again returned to the City of Memphis Hospital, this time as director of nursing. She was part of the team that planned the transition of the hospital into the Regional Medical Center at Memphis. She later became the first vice president of nursing and retired in June 1985. Since that time she has worked as a consultant for senior citizen issues and for home health care.