Florence McQuillen was born in Mahtwa, Minnesota, and graduated from the Central School of Nursing at the University of Minnesota in 1925. She received her anesthesia education at the Minneapolis General Hospital in 1926. Anesthesiologist John S. Lundy invited McQuillen to join his staff at the Mayo Clinic in 1927. She worked closely with Lundy as chief nurse anesthetist and as a clinical instructor, and collaborated with him in editing and abstracting articles for Anesthesia Abstracts.
In 1948 McQuillen became the first AANA Executive Director, a position she held until her retirement in 1970. In her 22 years as Executive Director, McQuillen was influential in virtually all areas of the AANA’s growth and expansion. Under her guidance, the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare officially recognized the AANA’s authority to grant accreditation for nurse anesthesia programs and to grant certification for nurse anesthetists. She also instituted the AANA’s voluntary continuing education program, which made the AANA the first professional nursing organization to recognize the need for continuing professional education; this eventually led to the adoption of a mandatory CE program. She received the AANA Award of Appreciation in 1970 and the Agatha Hodgins Award of Outstanding Accomplishment in 1981.