Dr. Ruby L. Wilson was born in 1931 in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Reverend and Mrs. C.H. Wilson. She graduated with honors from Punxsutawney High School and Allegheny General Hospital School of Nursing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After completing a B.S.N.Ed. at the University of Pittsburgh in 1954 and after serving as night clinical instructor and supervisor at A.G.H. for several years, she was appointed to Duke University School of Nursing as an instructor in Advanced Medical-Surgical Nursing in their new BSN program, serving 1955-1957. After 1957-58, employment at Fort Miley VA Hospital in San Francisco, California, Dr. Wilson completed her MSN at Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing, Case-Western University, in Cleveland, Ohio and in 1959 and returned to Duke University. During 1968-1971, after completing her doctorate (Ed.D.) at Duke University, Dr. Wilson served as visiting professor and consultant in nursing with the Rockefeller Foundation at the Faculty of Ramathibodi, School of Nursing, Mahidol University in Bangkok, Thailand as she assisted nursing and medicine in developing educational and patient care programs in the new research medical center there. In 1971 she returned again to Duke and was appointed dean of the School of Nursing, a position she maintained until 1984, when she became assistant to the chancellor for health affairs.
Dr. Wilson has pioneered innovative nursing programs in both education and patient care. She, together with Thelma Ingles, a Duke nursing colleague, developed the first-ever clinical master's program in nursing in 1955-56. Hanes Project, a primary nurse program within the MSN curriculum in 1961-2, admitted patients to a nurse as well as a physician, and Dr. Wilson was the developing director. In 1963 she developed and served in the first clinical nurse specialist position at Duke Medical Center, continuing her faculty appointments in the School of Nursing and Medicine and receiving a special appointment in the Department of Nursing Services at Duke Hospital; she is the only nurse to have a triad appointment in the medical center.
Among many other accomplishments as dean, Dr. Wilson re-established the graduate program of the School of Nursing, and her influence assisted in retaining the School of Nursing during 1978-80, a time of university retrenchment. As a member of professional, academic, and community organizations, Dr. Wilson has served in numerous capacities. She has also lobbied for nursing and health issues at the state and federal levels, as well as assisting in the drafting of bills and the writing of their regulations when approved. She was a presidential appointee to the Federal Advisory Committee for Nursing of the United States Public Health Service.
Many honors have been accorded to Dr. Wilson, including being the first women from the medical center to receive the Duke University Medal for Distinguished Meritorious Service (2006). She was elected to the prestigious Institute of Medicine (1976) and the American Academy of Nursing (1976). In 2007 the Ruby L. Wilson Professorship was established in her honor. She was recently awarded the inaugural Duke University School of Nursing Lifetime Achievement Award on behalf of the Duke University Alumni Association (2008). In 2009, the American Academy of Nursing bestowed the Living Legend Award on her for her outstanding contributions to nursing. In 2010, Dr. Wilson was inducted into the North Carolina State Nurses' Hall of Fame in recognition of a lifetime of service to the citizens, including nurses, of North Carolina. In 2011, Dr. Wilson received the Chancellor's Legacy Laureate Award from the University of Pittsburgh, one of her alma maters.