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Legislators encourage nursing students to share real-life impact of health care issues

Sep. 2, 2016, 5:36 PM

From left: Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville; past President of the Tennessee Nurses Association Jill Kinch; Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville; and VUSN Senior Associate Dean for Academics Mavis Schorn discuss how nurses can get involved in health care policy. (Anne Rayner/Vanderbilt)
From left: Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville; past President of the Tennessee Nurses Association Jill Kinch; Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville; and VUSN Senior Associate Dean for Academics Mavis Schorn discuss how nurses can get involved in health care policy. (Anne Rayner/Vanderbilt)

Be involved, be personal and be succinct. Those are key to engaging with policy makers and advocating for health care issues, two Tennessee lawmakers told doctoral students at the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing Aug. 30.

Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville; Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville; past President of the Tennessee Nurses Association Jill Kinch; and VUSN Senior Associate Dean for Academics Mavis Schorn participated in a panel discussion regarding the role nurses can play in health care policy.

Sexton is chair of the House Health Committee and was also appointed by House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, to chair the 3-Star Healthy Task Force. Yarbro is a member of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee and represents Senate District 21, which includes Vanderbilt.

Both leaders said that they want knowledgeable people to help them understand health care issues. “Help us understand how things translate into real life,” Yarbro said. “Tell me an actual story that tells me what the real-life impact is.”

Kinch, who serves as the assistant director for Ambulatory, Acute Care and Perioperative Services at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, frequently interacted with lawmakers in her leadership role at TNA.

She recommended nurses offer their services to their legislative officials as information resources. Since lawmakers can’t be experts on all industries, a reliable, authentic source can help them understand issues. “Your personal stories about taking care of patients are so powerful,” she said. “A lot of advocacy is just education. Being an advocate and educating about what you know about, what you care about, is probably the most powerful thing you can do.”

From left: Rep. Cameron Sexton; VUSN Dean Linda Norman, Valere Potter Menefee Professor of Nursing; and VU Assistant Vice Chancellor for State Government Relations Nathan Green following a panel discussion on Aug. 30. (Anne Rayner/Vanderbilt)
From left: Rep. Cameron Sexton; VUSN Dean Linda Norman, Valere Potter Menefee Professor of Nursing; and VU Assistant Vice Chancellor for State Government Relations Nathan Green following a panel discussion on Aug. 30. (Anne Rayner/Vanderbilt)

The legislators said the first step in engaging is simply to reach out and communicate. “A lot of people assume that people involved in government and politics are distant and unreachable, and that’s not true,” Yarbro said. “It’s really easy to find most people that represent you, especially at the state level. Just go out and do it.”

Sexton agreed. “Get to know your legislator; stay in touch. Invite them to a small gathering locally of nurses or friends and just have a conversation with them,” he said.

Those interactions build trust and relationships, Sexton said. “Trust is a very big thing between us and who we’re listening to,” he said. “The more trust we have in them, the more we’re going to listen.”

Yarbro encouraged nurses to build relationships by looking at the big picture and not just focusing on a narrow topic. “You know more about health care in general than they do,” he said. “The broader your perspective, the more I’ll trust you.”

When it comes to particular issues, advocates are going to be most successful when they can deliver their message in two to three minutes. “Get to the point,” Sexton said. Because legislators keep packed schedules while in session, a 60-90 second conversation on topic is a good meeting, he said.

“Keep it short and that will help me understand why it’s important to you,” Yarbro said. “Care about what you care about and bring that to the people … who are in a position to do something about those things.”

Both legislators encouraged nurses to be part of policy discussions. “You’re on the frontlines, you do it every single day,” Sexton said. “What you see, we don’t see.”

The discussion was organized for students in VUSN’s doctor of nursing practice and Ph.D. programs by Assistant Professor Karen Hande, with support from Vanderbilt University’s Assistant Vice Chancellor for State Government Relations Nathan Green.

“This session was to help doctoral nursing students find their voice and role in influencing policy makers to improve health care delivery,” Hande said. “It’s essential that they understand that part of their future roles as doctorally prepared nurses is to advocate on behalf of patient populations and improve practice outcomes.”

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