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Abdellah earned a nursing diploma from the Ann May School of Nursing in Neptune, New Jersey, undergraduate, masters and doctoral degrees from Columbia University, NY and graduate work in the sciences from Rutgers University. She authored more than 153 publications which forever changed the focus of nursing theory from disease-centered to patient-centered. She was the recipient of twelve honorary university degrees, and numerous awards, including the prestigious Allied Signal Award in 1989 and the Institute of Medicine’s Gustav O. Lienhard Award in 1992, all recognizing her innovative work in nursing research and health care.
Abdellah was the first nurse and the first woman to serve as Deputy Surgeon General (with Dr. C. Everett Koop) and was first nurse to hold the rank of Rear Admiral (upper half).
In 1999, she was elected to the Hall of Fame for Distinguished Graduates and Scholars at Columbia University, and the following year, was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame for a lifetime spent establishing and leading essential health care programs for the nation.