As we kick off a new year, I want to recognize and thank each and every one of you for last year’s incredible accomplishments. 2020 may have been one of the most challenging years for health care in a century. I know that the dual crises of racial equity and the pandemic have tested our resilience and some days it may not have been easy to persevere, but you have and are making a difference.
In light of the significant disruption nurse leaders faced in response to COVID-19, AONL chose to suspend the board nomination and election processes until 2021. We are grateful to our existing board members and officers whose terms would have ended in 2020 but have agreed to serve an additional year.
We plan to resume the nomination and election processes in 2021 and we are seeking recommendations from the 2020 AONL Nominations Committee on how to best modernize processes for the future. I remain honored and excited to be serving an additional year as your AONL board president.
Last year at this time, I started my message by kicking off the Year of the Nurse and Nurse Midwife to celebrate the 200th birthday of Florence Nightingale.
I knew our profession would be in the spotlight for the entire year, having the opportunity to remind the world how far we’ve come and all of the ways we make an impact. As we enter the 11th month since the novel coronavirus emerged, our country continues to experience soaring cases as well as civil unrest in the pursuit of racial equity and social justice. These events have highlighted the vital role nurses play in our society. Leveraging the full range of our capabilities, we leaned in and did whatever was needed to care for our communities and our nation and we will continue to do so.
Whether it is in the purview of a nurse’s individual practice or within a team or leadership role, advocacy has long been a pillar of our profession. We represent the largest segment of the health care workforce and according to Gallup surveys, we are considered to be the most honest and ethical of professions. The size of our constituency and our credibility with the general public is broadly recognized and we are consulted in matters of health. This gives us the opportunity to utilize our credibility to advocate for the delivery of safe and compassionate care to all communities. This issue of Voice of Nursing Leadership offers excellent examples of how nurse leaders are impacting health care quality and safety standards through the advocacy process.
When we harness our collective voice, nurse leaders influence policies at the local, state and national level.
Ann Zenk recounts the amazing efforts of her nurse leader colleagues in Wisconsin to drive bipartisan legislation and pass a landmark workplace violence bill. In Zenk’s account, nurse leaders leveraged their networks, both tactically and strategically, to mobilize support for the bill. Their efforts were rewarded with the passage of a bill which includes enhanced penalties for violence against nurses and other health care workers. This is a strong example of the power we have when we come together and raise our collective voice.
Delving into the world of advocacy and policy can be challenging for busy nurse leaders. The Association of California Nurse Leaders (ACNL) recognized this and worked to close the knowledge gap in our academic and practice environments with respect to awareness and involvement in health policy. Mary Lynne Knighten and her co-authors provide an excellent framework for establishing a practical approach to developing health policy competencies for nurse leaders in California. The chairs of the health policy committee developed a practical and intentional approach to equipping nurse leaders with the knowledge they need to engage in the policy arena in a meaningful way. Using the framework of shared governance, ACNL members developed an education program on the regulatory and legislative processes and made health policy a more accessible space for their members. Theirs is an important example of how to begin to close the knowledge gap in this important area of our practice.
In another example of advocacy, Pilar De La Cruz-Reyes shares her experience serving on a California nursing regulatory board, learning how regulatory board members protect the public. My own experience serving for seven years as the elected nurse administrator to the North Carolina Board of Nursing allowed me to assist with drafting legislation providing oversight to RN and APRN scope of practice. I also worked on developing and monitoring programs that helped nurses struggling with practice concerns and substance abuse gain the ability to safely practice again.
AONL’s mission is to shape health care through innovative and expert nursing leadership. We do this by focusing on education, advocacy and community. AONL in collaboration with the American Hospital Association (AHA) and national nursing organizations such as the American Nurses Association, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the National League for Nursing and the National Council of State Boards of Nursing address public policy issues related to nursing and patient care. This past year AONL has specifically focused on needs related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our annual Advocacy Day (this year held virtually) yielded 150 messages to legislators. Our members advocated for Title VIII reauthorization which supports nursing workforce programs and support of mental health resources for nurses experiencing the effects of the pandemic. AONL CEO Robyn Begley represented AONL at the White House with other national nursing leaders as they spoke directly to President Trump, asking for personal protective equipment, supplies, and education and support for front-line nurses. I served on the AHA’s Pathway to Recovery Task Force which is developing resources and providing guidance to support the needs of our teams and government agencies during the pandemic.
I recently read the statement of AONL member Kit Bredimus, CNO of Midland (Texas) Memorial Hospital as he asked Midland’s mayor and city council for support during the increased prevalence of COVID-19 in his hospital and community. He eloquently described an increasingly urgent situation, sharing the impact on the broader community. What a great example of advocacy in action!
Now and well into the future, nurse leaders must continue to promote and support policies that stand up for safe and equitable care for all, and for all who provide it. When we harness our collective voice, nurse leaders influence policies at the local, state and national level. Through innovation, collaboration and persistence, our efforts create tremendous impact. And as the most trusted profession, we deliver. This issue of Voice exhibits the many ways we advocate in the quality and regulatory arenas. This advocacy can take shape in establishing a foundation for shared governance, serving on a nursing regulatory body, developing nurse leaders or advocating for stiff penalties for those who harm health care workers. Together, we are well positioned to lead the transformation of the health of our nation.
About the Author
Mary Ann Fuchs, 2021 president, AONL Board of Directors