Judith Cornell

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Judith Cornell
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Born1940 (age 83–84)
  • Operating Theatre
  • Nursing

Judith Cornell's contribution to operating theatre (OR) nursing and the New South Wales Operating Theatre Association was significant and sustained throughout her working life. Cornell held supervisory and educator positions in the speciality of operating room nursing of major teaching hospitals in New South Wales, Australia from the 1970s becoming the Assistant Director of Nursing Operating Theatres at Westmead Hospital in the western suburbs of Sydney from 1978. In 1975 she had spearheaded the development of a national conference in OR nursing and was the first chairperson of the inaugural Australasian National Conference (OR) in 1977. Cornell was a key figure promoting and supporting NSW operating room nurses and was the NSW Operating Theatre Association (OTA) President in 1979-1980 and 1986-1987. She became the first chairperson of the Australian Confederation of Operating room nurses and delivered the first Australian College of Operating Room Nurses (ACORN) oration in 2002 (later named after her). Judith Cornell was an integral member of the establishment of ACORN in 1977 and continued to work for the association with the establishment of OR nursing standards, including several terms on the OTA council as president. In addition Cornell maintained close and continuing involvement in the Royal College of Nursing Australia (RCNA) with a term as president.[1][2]

A further major achievement for Cornell occurred when, as Executive Director of the NSW College of Nursing, 1986-1996 she was actively involved in the amalgamation of the Royal College of Nursing Australia (RCNA) and the NSW College of Nursing (NSWCN) to form the Australian College of Nursing (ACN) in July 2012. Cornell’s commitment to her profession and its long term future underpinned her support for the amalgamation of the NSWCN and the RCNA to become the ACN.[3]

Judith Cornell was at all times the consummate professional including her long association and work with the Australian Healthcare Standards and was awarded a Gold Medal from that organisation in 1996. She was awarded an Order of Australia in 1995 for her contribution to nursing practice, and education.[1][4]

In addition, Judith Cornell included in her reformist agenda her continuing support for the profession of nursing and its history in Australia with several terms as President of the Health and Medicine Museums Special Interest Group of Museums Australia (HMM) and was an advocate for volunteer-managed collections throughout Australia. After her retirement Judith Cornell became the Honorary Archivist at the NSW College of Nursing and led the consolidation and further development of the most remarkable historical and archival collection of nursing history in Australia, a role she continued until her death in 2014[1][5] Cornell published several books on nursing and nursing history including Letters from Belsen 1945 an Australian nurse's experience with survivors of war, (with R Lynette Russell). [4] Cornell attended innumerable conferences on nursing and was a founding member, together with Professor Ross Holland, of the Society for the Preservation of Artefacts of Surgery and Medicine (SPASM).[1]

Nursing career

Judith Cornell began her nursing education with a General Nursing Certificate from St George Hospital, Sydney 1957-1961.She obtained her Midwifery Certificate at Brisbane Women's Hospital 1961-1962. Following this Cornell practised as a registered nurse until she was offered a Royal Australian Nursing Federation exchange studentship at Hahnemann Medical College and Hospital, Philadelphia, and St Vincent's Hospital, Portland, in the United States. Returning to Sydney she competed a Certificate in Operating Theatre Management at the NSW College of Nursing in 1972. In addition she completed a Diploma of Administration Nursing with (Distinction) at the Armidale College of Advanced Education (now University of New England) in 1983, and a Master of Nursing Administration at the University of NSW in 1989. It was when Judith Cornell returned from the United States that she found her nursing speciality, operating room nursing, and with great passion and professionalism she continued to support for this field of nursing for the remainder of her career.[1]


Judith Roberts grew up in the suburb of Hornsby, Sydney, NSW. Born in 1940 she was the first of two daughters to Alan Roberts and Jean. Her vocation for nursing emerged when she had a long stay at Lewisham Hospital after losing an eye in an accident when four years of age. Many colleagues were unaware of her loss of any eye as she did not see herself as disadvantaged. She met Anthony (Tony) Cornell when snow skiing and they married in Kogarah Presbyterian Church in 1972. [1]Judith Meppen summed up Judith's nursing career as follows:

...she was first a great clinician; then a great teacher, administrator and more recently, a noted nursing historian who was very active in many nursing and other professional organisations. She contributed not only to nursing and health care but to the wider community as a whole.[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Meppen, Judith L (2014). "A friend's tribute Judith Anne Cornell (née ROBERTS) AM, FACN, FACORN, RN, RM, COTM (NSWCN), DipNursAdmin (UNE), MNA (UNSW) 1940–2014". ACORN: The Journal of Perioperative Nursing In Australia. 27 (2): 30–33 – via EBSCOhost.
  2. Cornell J. Nurse in profile. Judith Cornell, AM. Interview by Narelle Coleman. Lamp. 1996 May;53(4):48. PMID: 9313475.
  3. Smith, Russell (1999). In Pursuit of Nursing Excellence: A Hiistory of the Royal College of Nursing, Australia 1949-99. South Melbourne: Oxford University Press. pp. 266–267. ISBN 0195510518.
  4. Pratt & Russell, Rosalie & R Lynette (2002). A voice to be heard: The first fifty years of the NSW College of Nursing. Sydney: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1865087718.
  5. JUDITH CORNELL, 1940-2014, Sydney Morning Herald, June 14, 2014 , https://www.smh.com.au/national/leading-nurse-helped-save-heritage-collections-20140613-zs78a.html accessed 13 September, 2023.

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