© Mary T. Sarnecky
Nancy Ruth Adams was born on April 20, 1945 in Rochester, NY, the firstborn in a family that numbered five daughters and one son. Her parents, Jane Patterson Adams and James S. Adams (an accountant/businessman), met while serving in World War II, respectively as an Army nurse and an Army Air Corps lieutenant. Throughout her formative years, Adams lent a hand in caring for her siblings, babysat, sold accessories in a department store, and worked as a nursing assistant. In these activities, she gleaned her first lessons in diligence, personal responsibility, leadership, and money management. Influenced by her mother and a school nurse, young Adams set her sights on a career in nursing. Her collegiate education began with two years at Nazareth College of Rochester followed by three years at Cornell University where she earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing. While studying at Cornell/New York Hospital in pricey Manhattan, Adams took advantage of the Army Student Nurse Program to help underwrite her living expenses. With this financial support came an obligation to serve as an Army Nurse Corps officer for a period of two years.1
Adams entered active duty in 1968, serving as a medical-surgical nurse at Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, TX, for several months before and after her attendance at the Army Medical Department (AMEDD) Officer Basic Course. At that time, the war in Vietnam was rapidly escalating. However, her next assignment was not to the battlefields of Vietnam but to the détente of Korea where she worked in the medical intensive care unit as a general duty nurse. After returning from Korea in 1970, Adams joined the staff at Moncrief Army Community Hospital at Fort Jackson, SC, where her initial assignment was evening/night relief supervisor followed by a stint in the emergency room. In 1972, the Army sent young Captain Adams to the Catholic University of America where she earned a master’s degree in medical-surgical nursing.2 At this early stage in her career, Adams’ keen insight, savvy judgments, and reliable performance were evident and increasingly led to more challenging positions.
Completing graduate school in 1974, Adams next served at William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, TX, as master nurse clinician in intensive care. In 1978 she became director of the Intensive Care Nursing Course at Fitzsimons Army Medical Center in Aurora, CO. Two years later, Adams became a member of the Health Services Command Inspector General team, following that broadening experience with a tour of duty as associate in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Health Affairs) in 1983. She matriculated at the Army War College in Carlisle Barracks, PA, in 1985, garnering knowledge, honing skills, and creating personal networks that would facilitate and shape her future career trajectory. In 1986, Adams functioned first as assistant chief and later as chief of the Department of Nursing at Frankfurt Army Regional Medical Center in Germany. Returning to the states in 1989, she became the Office of the Surgeon General nurse consultant.
Then in December 1991, Adams was promoted to brigadier general and became the 19th chief of the Army Nurse Corps.3 As her assistant chief, Adams chose Colonel Terris Kennedy. The basis for that selection resided in Kennedy’s ability to form personal linkages with others in positions of influence and her expertise in personnel matters. Those attributes essentially made it possible for Kennedy to administer the Army Nurse Corps on a daily basis while Adams’ attentions were significantly focused on the broader spectrum of her other AMEDD positions.4 While chief, Adams also served as director of AMEDD Personnel, assistant surgeon general for nursing, and commander of the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine. She was the first Army Nurse Corps officer to serve in the latter two positions.
Over her statutory four-year tenure as chief, Adams made numerous contributions. As the Corps’ most senior leader, a few of her many achievements included conceptualization of a new model of Army nursing practice; support for innovative nursing programs that reduced costs, improved patient access, and enhanced quality of care; the revamp and decentralization of the structure and function of Army nursing research; utilization of nursing informatics officers in formulating Department of Defense clinical information systems; and enhancing Reserve and National Guard nurses’ inclusion in the total force. Moreover, Adams “worked tirelessly to minimize and mitigate the loss of Army Nurse Corps authorizations within the context of a massive Army drawdown.”5 She supported the provision of nursing assets for Operation Provide Promise in Croatia, Operation Restore Hope in Somalia, and Operations Uphold/Maintain Democracy in Haiti. Adams recognized the imperative and championed the initiative to document the heritage of the Army Nurse Corps when she approved a years-long project to research, write, and publish a history of the Corps. She also backed the selection of an Army nurse for the trail-blazing assignment as company commander, a harbinger of the ensuing development of command opportunities for Army Nurse Corps officers.
In 1995, the scope of Adams’ activities as Army Nurse Corps chief transferred to her successor. She subsequently assumed command of the Southwest Health Service Support Area and later commanded William Beaumont Army Medical Center, another landmark accomplishment for a female and a nurse. In 1998 she was promoted to major general, the first Army nurse to earn a second star. Next, Adams took command of Tripler Army Medical Center, HI, the Pacific Regional Medical Command, and served as command surgeon of the U.S. Army, Pacific. Finally with 35 years of Army service, she retired from active duty in 2002.6
After leaving the Army, Adams shifted her attention to new challenges. She began employment in the federal government’s Senior Executive Service working for TRICARE, the Department of Defense healthcare program. Afterwards, she became one of the founders of VetFed Resources, a firm that offered “innovative and responsible management and technical solutions to today’s most pressing problems.” Adams also served as a senior partner with Martin, Blanck & Associates, a healthcare consulting, business development, and acquisition assistance organization.7 When not traveling for business or for pleasure with family and friends, Adams makes her home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
- Nancy R. Adams, Interview by Mary T. Sarnecky, 9 January 2001, 1-2, 6-7, 9, 11-13, 15, 16, 27. Barry W. Fowle, “Medical Memoirs, Maj. Gen. Nancy Adams,” U.S. Army Medical Department Office of Medical History, 1-11. Colonel Carol Reineck, “Nancy R. Adams,” in Heritage of Leadership, Army Nurse Corps Biographies, ed. Brigadier General Dorothy B. Pocklington, (Ellicot City, MD: Aldot, 2004), 114-119.
- Barry W. Fowle, "Medical Memoirs, Maj. Gen. Nancy Adams," U.S. Army Medical Department Office of Medical History, 12-18, 20-28. Nancy R. Adams, Interview by Mary T. Sarnecky, 9 January 2001, 35-72.
- Major General Nancy R. Adams, General Officer Management Office (GOMO) resume, 21 August 2008, U.S. Army Medical Department Office of Medical History. Nancy R. Adams, Interview by Mary T. Sarnecky, 9 January 2001, 72-180. Barry W. Fowle, “Medical Memoirs, Maj. Gen. Nancy Adams,” U.S. Army Medical Department Office of Medical History, 29-31, 40-59, 61-65, 67-79, 81-106.
- Mary T. Sarnecky, A Contemporary History of the Army Nurse Corps (Washington DC: Office of the Surgeon General, Borden Institute), 347. Nancy R. Adams, Interview by Mary T. Sarnecky, 9 January 2001, 184, 192. Barry W. Fowle, “Medical Memoirs, Maj. Gen. Nancy Adams,” U.S. Army Medical Department Office of Medical History, 112-114, 138.
- Mary T. Sarnecky, A Contemporary History of the Army Nurse Corps (Washington DC: Office of the Surgeon General, Borden Institute), 347.
- Mary T. Sarnecky, A Contemporary History of the Army Nurse Corps (Washington DC: Office of the Surgeon General, Borden Institute), 347-348. Carolyn M. Feller and Debora R. Cox, eds., Highlights in the History of the Army Nurse Corps (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 2000), 64-68. “Major General Nancy R. Adams, General Officer Management Office (GOMO) resume, 21 August 2008, U.S. Army Medical Department Office of Medical History.
- Mary T. Sarnecky, A Contemporary History of the Army Nurse Corps (Washington DC: Office of the Surgeon General, Borden Institute), 349. http://www.vetfed.com accessed 21 January 2014. http://www.martin-blanck.com/bio_nancy-adams.php accessed 21 January 2014.