Helen Mussallem enrolled in nursing school at the age of 19. (Special to The News)

Helen Mussallem enrolled in nursing school at the age of 19. (Special to The News)

Maple Ridge nurse credited for turning nursing into a revered career

Lieutenant Helen Mussallem was the most decorated military nurse of the Second World War

A Maple Ridge nurse who served in the armed forces during the Second World War is credited for transforming the industry across the country into the revered career it is today.

Helen Kathleen Mussallem, the daughter of Solomon Mussallem – a former mayor and founder of Haney Garage – enlisted in the No. 19 Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps as a lieutenant at the start of the war.

Her contributions are being spotlighted during national nurses week, this year. It’s always around Florence Nightingale’s birthday, this year running May 9 to 15.

Mussallem moved to Maple Ridge from Prince Rupert in 1921 with her parents at the age of seven.

She knew at the age of 19 that she wanted to be a nurse and had attended nursing school at Vancouver General Hospital in 1934.

That was where she continued to work until the war broke out.

First she was deployed to the United Kingdom, where she was put in charge of operating rooms. Then she travelled to France and Germany working in field hospitals.

Lieutenant Mussallem was often under fire during her service and earned nine medals – making her the most decorated military nurse of the Second World War.

After she was discharged from active duty, she went to McGill University and went on to become the first Canadian nurse to receive a doctoral degree in nursing education.

READ MORE: Helen Mussallem remembered

ALSO RELATED: Mussallem house moved to Maple Ridge Cemetery

According to the late Sheila Nickols, who was an avid Maple Ridge historian, Mussallem was partially responsible for the reformation of nursing education and the unionization of nurses across Canada.

She also transformed nursing into a career, instead of a vocation, by improving and standardizing nursing education across the country. Mussallem even established the National Nursing Library, which would later be renamed in her honour.

She received the Florence Nightingale Medal, the highest award bestowed by the International Red Cross, a Damehood of Grace from the order of St. John, and an officership of the Order of Canada.

Mussallem died on Nov. 9, 2012, at the age of 98.


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