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Dr. Vivien Theodore Thomas was born in Lake Providence, Louisiana in 1910. The grandson of a slave, Vivien Thomas attended Pearl High School in Nashville, and graduated with honors in 1929. In the wake of the stock market crash in October, he secured a job as a laboratory assistant in 1930 with Dr. Alfred Blalock at Vanderbilt University.

Tutored in anatomy and physiology by Blalock and his young research fellow, Dr. Joseph Beard, Thomas rapidly mastered complex surgical techniques and research methodology. In an era when institutional racism was the norm, Thomas was classified, and paid, as a janitor, despite the fact that by the mid-1930s he was doing the work of a postdoctoral researcher in Blalock's lab. Together he and Blalock did groundbreaking research into the causes of hemorrhagic and traumatic shock. This work later evolved into research on Crush syndrome and saved the lives of thousands of soldiers on the battlefields of World War II.



I became a nurse because I wanted to help individuals and families stay healthy. By the Grace of God, I was able to graduate as a Registered Nurse (RN) with a public health certificate from Hillcrest School of Nursing, a 3 year diploma program in 1966, in Tulsa Okla. As the only person of color in that graduating class, of course there were obstacles; on the day I graduated, I remember someone calling me the 'N' word. 

In life, there will always be someone telling you what you can or cannot do. There comes a time, you have to look inward, make a decision and fight to make those dreams a reality. I later obtained my BSN at Holy Names University in 1986 in Oakland, CA. In 1992, I graduated from the University of California San Francisco with a Master's in Nursing and a Nurse Practitioner certificate specializing in Geriatric medicine.

My nursing career has spanned over 50 years and has enabled me to work briefly in Greece and in Vietnam from 1969 to 1971 with The National Council of Churches.

I have worked in hospitals, clinics, and in the home. I have worked as a medical surgical, home health and public health RN. In addition, I worked in Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing facilities, Hospice, and a House call program as a Nurse Practitioner. 

Throughout my nursing career, I was a member of several professional nursing organizations. I belonged to the California Nurses' Association; Sigma Theta Tau, a nursing sorority; California Association for Nurse Practitioners (CANP), and the National Coalition of Geriatric NPs (NCGNP). I was accredited by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). 


I formally retired from my professional nursing career in November 2019. I currently volunteer as a health care professional at my church in our Health and Wellness program. Today, you will often find me in California hiking on a trail, where I'm still reminded that obstacles are there. Just keep walking. 

 Zelma J Lewis



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