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Red Cross Nursing Medal Awarded to Acting U.S. Surgeon General

Rear Admiral Sylvia Trent-Adams, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N,  Acting Surgeon General for U.S. Public Health Services

Rear Admiral Sylvia Trent-Adams, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N, Acting Surgeon General for U.S. Public Health Services, has been awarded the Red Cross Florence Nightingale Medal for her work in disaster and public health.

The Columbia, Maryland resident is one of 39 outstanding nurses from 22 countries awarded the medal from the International Committee of the Red Cross/Red Crescent. The medal is the highest international honor of nursing contributions in the Red Cross/Red Crescent worldwide network, given for exceptional courage and devotion to victims of armed conflict or natural disaster.

Trent-Adams time with the American Red Cross includes being an HIV-AIDs instructor as well as teaching Red Cross Babysitting and community health classes for new mothers. She volunteered with the Hampton Road Red Cross, at the Walter Reed National Medical Center and with the Red Cross in Lynchburg, VA.

“I am delighted that Rear Admiral Trent-Adams is being honored by the distinguished Nightingale award and medal for her outstanding contributions in public health, nursing and disaster response,” said Linda MacIntyre, chief nurse, American Red Cross. “ Individuals and communities are at the heart of her work.”

HELPED EBOLA PATIENTS IN LIBERIA In 2014 Trent-Adams traveled to Liberia as a U.S. Public Health Commanding Officer to coordinate resources in response to the Ebola outbreak there. Trent-Adams and her team worked with the International Red Cross, USAID, Disaster Action Response Teams and others to provide resources for Ebola Treatment Units and sponsor support groups for Ebola survivors.

Under Trent-Adams’ leadership, the first Ebola survivor support group was established, as well as a training program for community health workers and job opportunities for Ebola survivors in Liberia. This was especially significant due to the stigma surrounding Ebola survivors. Trent-Adams was instrumental in producing the Ebola Clinical Guidelines that were adopted throughout West Africa.

PROVIDED HELP FOR AIDS PATIENTS Another outstanding accomplishment is Trent-Adams’ work in communities impacted by HIV and AIDS. “One of my greatest joys is being able to go into a community with no services for HIV, to work with providers to build a grant program and see this grow year after year,” she said. “People on death’s doorstep have been given a new lease on life.”

Trent-Adams’ vividly remembers her first patient with AIDS. Working at Walter Reed National Military Center as an Army nurse, she says that the first eye contact with a young man “seared in my brain and I remember an employee sliding the tray across the room to him for fear of coming to close. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity.” Trent-Adams provided care and respect for the man and earned his gratitude.

The Maryland resident worked in a clinic where many soldiers had AIDS and helped them understand that “it’s okay for them to be who they are.” This experience shaped her understanding of a nurse’s obligation to be an advocate.

“It is humbling to help people who don’t have anything,” she said. “After a disaster or an epidemic such as HIV or Ebola; they are so resilient and can find something good even in catastrophe. The most important role in leadership is humility - step away from the title, degrees and credentials. We have an obligation to give back and it’s important that all have access to health. We have a commitment to excel, to raise the bar, even when we’re volunteers, so that we can deliver the highest quality of service.”

Trent-Adams received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Hampton University, a Master of Science in Nursing and Health Policy from the University of Maryland, Baltimore, and a Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She became a Fellow in the American Academy of Nursing in 2014.

About the American Red Cross:

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit or, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.