University of Virginia School of Nursing
Williams is the recipient of UVA Health System's MLK Award for 2019, which recognizes exceptional cultural competence, a focus on health disparities, and a champion of diversity, inclusion and caring.

University of Virginia nursing professor Ishan Williams is the recipient of UVA Health System’s Martin Luther King Jr. Award for 2019.

Williams, also assistant dean for diversity and inclusion in the nursing school, received the honor as part of the “Women in the Movement” event marking Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which featured Mavis Ford Claytor, UVA Nursing’s first African-American graduate, Mary Holmes, a nurse pioneer who helped desegregate UVA Hospital, and Bishop Sarah Kelley, UVA’s first black chaplain resident.

“From the focus of her own scholarship to her expansive participation in national and regional organizations to her wide-ranging work at UVA, Ishan has broadened the way we teach and care for our nation’s most vulnerable,” said Dorrie Fontaine, dean of the School of Nursing,. “She’s also inspired young people from a broad spectrum of backgrounds to consider nursing at a time when minority nurses, nurse researchers and nurse faculty, are in acutely short supply.”

"Ishan has broadened the way we teach and care for our nation’s most vulnerable."

Dean Dorrie K. Fontaine, in her nomination of Ishan Williams for the 2019 MLK Award

Williams – among the School’s small handful of faculty who are non-nurses, with a degree in psychology and human development – studies health issues impacting minority populations, including their experience of dementia, Type 2 diabetes, and the link between vascular disease and cognition. Director of the School of Nursing’s Aging Research Team of scholars, Williams is president of the Southern Gerontological Society, is a fellow and board member of the Gerontological Society of America (the nation’s largest interdisciplinary organization devoted to aging), and a member of the AARP’s Public Policy Institute Roundtable and the Lindsay Institute for Caregiving advisory council. She is also associate editor for the Journal of Ethnicity and Health.

Williams’ nursing courses are perennially popular and affecting, and she’s been regularly feted for her teaching skill. In 2011, she was named an Excellence in Diversity Fellow by the Teaching and Resources Center; in 2016, she earned the Faculty Leadership Award from the School of Nursing’s Alumni Association; and in 2017, she received the Mentor Recognition Award by the Office of African-American Affairs.

Beyond her wide-ranging scholarship and service is a profound commitment to local issues of diversity and inclusion, too. She is a key driver and voice for diversity groups and boards, works closely with agencies across Charlottesville, and is a critical ingredient to many UVA, Health System, and School of Nursing initiatives as well.

Williams coordinates events that gather minority students, faculty and local minority high schoolers around lively workshops and demonstrations that introduce nursing as a profession. She is often called to serve on boards and committees, including UVA Medical Center’s Cultural Advisory Committee (2008-2012), its Center on Health Disparities Board (2008-2012), and, at the School of Nursing, membership on the Diversity Committee (2010-2012). Williams was also an inaugural member of the UVA’s Black Employee Resource Group.

She’s worked tirelessly with nursing students at community health fairs across central Virginia addressing healthcare access issues specific to heart health, diversity in research, diabetes management and cognitive impairment and chronic disease. As a mentor to both undergraduate and graduate nursing students, she is a favorite ally and inspiration. And as a fierce and unwavering supporter of minority students, Williams’ sensitivity and understanding has been a critical ingredient as Charlottesville and our nation experiences episodes of racial and ethnic unrest. She listens intently, speaks thoughtfully, provides perspective, and, when possible, helps channel students’ anger into productivity.

Williams has profoundly impacted the faculty and administrators around her, as she considers new ways to expand the message of diversity and inclusion beyond its current borders. She recently co-led UVA faculty and administrators’ participation in the USC-led Race Equity Institute, championing anti-racist and more inclusive curricula. Too, she’s continued these discussions by proposing a new course – “Health (In)Equities” – which will look at the intersection of race, class and gender.

The Health System’s MLK Award – presented annually to a School of Medicine, School of Nursing or Medical Center faculty or staff member who best embodies King’s values – recognizes exceptional abilities in areas of cultural competence, healthcare disparities, and/or fostering an environment of caring, diversity and inclusivity.