Legendary professor shaped UVA’s nursing programs and beyond
When Barbara Brodie arrived at the University of Virginia in 1970 to develop its graduate programs in nursing, she thought she’d spend just four years there. She ended up staying for 32.
In 1972 Brodie founded the first graduate-level pediatric nurse practitioner program in Virginia, playing a vital role in the growing legitimacy of the nurse practitioner profession. She went on to develop UVA’s emergency, adult and family NP programs. She served as founding director of the University’s Bjoring Center for Nursing Historical Inquiry and incorporated nursing history courses across UVA’s undergraduate, master’s and doctoral programs. Brodie died Feb. 9, 2023, at her home in Charlottesville. She was 87.
Brodie mentored hundreds of nursing students, who all quickly learned never to show up to class unprepared. Friend, colleague and former student Barbie Dunn (Nurs ’74 CM) remembers the day she met Brodie—when interviewing for a spot in that first pediatric NP master’s program.
“It was the most terrifying interview of my life,” Dunn said. “She was tiny but could be very intimidating.”
As an instructor, Brodie commanded respect with her tough demeanor, her high expectations, and the invaluable lessons she taught. “She knew that we would need more than clinical knowledge to be able to survive,” Dunn said. “We also had to do things like be able to speak publicly, write clearly and present ourselves professionally.” Brodie’s ability to instill those skills in students still stands out to Dunn nearly 50 years later.
“Of all the things Barb was, in terms of her leadership and program development, she was first and foremost an exceptional teacher,” Dunn said.
In 1988, well into her own nursing career, Dunn teamed up with fellow former students to create the Barbara Brodie Scholars Endowment Fund, informally known as “the Friends of Barb.” The 20-member group has raised more than $830,000 and distributed over $500,000 in scholarship support to 62 nurse practitioner and doctoral students, according to Virginia Nursing Legacy Magazine.
The group, which still meets annually, allowed former mentees to maintain their relationships with Brodie, who attended meetings. “I like to say Barb’s superpower was her ability to connect people in such a way that they wanted to stay both connected to her, as well as each other, and to support the University,” Dunn said.
Growing up in Chicago, Brodie always knew she wanted to pursue a career in medicine. She loved science and, as a teenager, she worked as a candy striper at a local hospital.
“She had her head on her shoulders and knew exactly what direction she was going,” said her sister, Pat Kaiser. “Barbara never did a thing halfway. She put her whole heart and soul into it.”
That passion and dedication went into everything she did, including the annual family beach trips she began planning more than 50 years ago—a tradition her family says it plans to continue. “That was all under her initiative. She booked the cottages every year, and she was the one who carted all the fishing poles and ice-cream makers and boogie boards back and forth,” Kaiser said. “She was the heart of our family. Anybody got sick, or anybody needed help, Barbara was always the first one there.”
Brodie received her bachelor’s from Loyola University Chicago School of Nursing, her master’s in maternal-child nursing from Boston University, and her doctorate in educational psychology and human development from Michigan State University. She’s the author of Mr. Jefferson’s Nurses: The University of Virginia School of Nursing, 1901-2001. She was inducted into the American Academy of Nursing in 1990 and earned a Distinguished Professor Award from the UVA Alumni Association in 2002.
In addition to her sister, survivors include several nieces and nephews.