April 8, 2005

Nursing students converge on state Capitol

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Vanderbilt School of Nursing students (front row, left to right) Cara McCracken, Dabney Lipscomb, Mary Sanford Hay and Meredith McLean cheer during the roll call at the annual Tennessee Nurses Association Day on the Hill.
photo by Dana Johnson

Nursing students converge on state Capitol

Vanderbilt nursing students let their voices be heard at the state capitol for the annual Nursing Students on the Move: Capitol Hill Day, sponsored by the Tennessee Nurses Association last week.

Nearly 150 students from the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing and eight faculty members joined hundreds of other nursing students from 19 schools across the state for a convention-style political rally in War Memorial Auditorium.

The event gives nursing students the opportunity to learn about legislation impacting their profession, and how to become involved in the legislative process. Victor Czerkasij, a first-year, pre-specialty, or “bridge,” student in the Family Nurse Practitioner Program at Vanderbilt, was chosen by his classmates to address the crowd and share the nursing issue of most concern to nursing students at Vanderbilt. Their concerns reflected the current debate over the future of TennCare in Tennessee.

“The issue we are most concerned about is affordable health care for all,” said Czerkasij. “The greatness of a nation is measured by how we take care of the least. Those who suffer the most and are most in need are also those who have the least access, and nursing is there to help bridge the gap,” he said. “But the burden is heavy, so it's going to take state, community, and concerned people to help,” added Czerkasij.

Betsy Kennedy, M.S.N., lecturer in nursing, organizes Vanderbilt's participation in the event each year, encouraging students in her Professional Foundations of Nursing class to learn about the legislative process and the bills that could impact how they practice in the future.

“It is imperative for these future advanced practice students to understand the importance and power of the voice of nursing in shaping the health care agenda. Politics and legislation will play a prominent role throughout their careers, whether it is in the community, professional organizations, the workplace or even the patient's bedside,” said Kennedy.

Laura Beth Brown, M.S.N., R.N., president of Vanderbilt Home Care Services and vice president-elect of the TNA, spoke to Vanderbilt nursing students prior to the event to encourage them to get involved in their professional nursing organization.

“I personally think that participation allows for nurses and students to have a voice in policy and legislative development. I believe that it is my professional obligation to be involved in the nurses association. Participation allows me to be involved in my profession at local (District), state (Tennessee Association), national (American Nurses Association) and international (International Congress of Nursing) levels. Participation elevates you beyond the occupation to the profession,” Brown said.

Susan Cooper, M.S.N., R.N., director of the Center for Advanced Practice Nursing and Allied Health at Vanderbilt Medical Center, assistant dean for Practice at the School of Nursing and chair of the Practice and Policy Committee of the TNA, said there are several bills currently up for consideration that have nurses concerned.

“The TNA is monitoring over 200 bills that could impact the nursing profession,” said Cooper. Two bills favored by nurses, and the TNA, involve legislation banning the use of mandatory overtime for nurses in health care facilities, and funding of nursing scholarships for nurses who fill faculty positions in Tennessee schools of nursing following graduation from masters or doctoral programs.

With 236 credentialed Nurse Practitioners, 61 Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists, 11 Nurse-Midwives and a countless number of clinical specialists and Allied Health Professionals currently working at Vanderbilt, Cooper said nurses here could have a powerful voice on the hill, yet many don't get involved. “You've got to find your way of influencing policy as nurse citizen, nurse activist or nurse politician. If nurses don't speak out to protect and define the professional practice of nursing, someone else will,” she said. “Through speaking with a collective voice, nurses will be able to effect some changes,” added Cooper.

Frances Edwards, M.S.N., an alumna of the School of Nursing and former president of the TNA who also visited VUSN to educate students prior to their visit to the state capitol, said nurses who think taking an active role in local legislation takes away from their practice are missing the big picture.

“You can nurse the sick, but part of nursing the sick is taking care of their rights in the state legislature,” Edwards said.

After the rally on Capitol Hill, VUSN students were asked to write to their local legislators about an issue that is important to them as part of a class assignment, and were encouraged to visit with legislators on the hill.