"It's a little like a School House Rock for nurses," quipped Ashley Apple, a Richmond nurse practitioner and DNP student who organized the two-day legislative policy, advocacy and action event for her fellow nurses. "It's a class, a networking opportunity, and a cool experience to boost enthusiasm."
Indeed, the two-day in-person (masked, socially distanced) forum Apple dubbed ENACT -- that's Empowering Nurse Advocates to Cultivate Transformation -- did all those things, bringing together undergraduate and graduate nursing students to talk race, justice, health, housing, law, caucusing -- and how, basically, to advocate for change.
"We need to stimulate nurses to be more engaged in the profession, not just to pay dues but to see how you can actually be a part of policy and advocacy."Terri Yost, assistant professor and Apple's DNP advisor
"I call together and claim you all as part of our new ENACT coalition," cheered Millicent Gorham, executive director of the National Black Nurses Association, who spoke to students over Zoom. "We'll advocate for ourselves, our patients, the profession of nursing, our communities, and the world."
The gathering is part of Apple's final culminating capstone project, which, explained Apple's advisor assistant professor Terri Yost, will allow her to collect "data on attendees' policy awareness and evaluate their level of political involvement" subsequent to attending the conference. "The hope is that we stimulate people to be more engaged in professional nursing organizations, and not just paying their dues. We want to raise their awareness about the political process, and how you can actually be a part of it."
Invited speakers included Gorham, Jill Hanken, of the Virginia Poverty Law Center, Helen Hardiman, assistant attorney general and a housing activist, Becky Bowers-Lanier, a nurse lobbyist and policy expert, Sara Jennings, education director for the International Association of Forensic Nurses, Mary Kay Goldschmidt, head of legislative affairs for the Virginia Nurses Association, Del. Dawn Adams, a nurse practitioner, and Sen. Ghazala Hashmi. Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax made a Zoom appearance, and even, afterwards, gave the nursing students a shout-out from the floor of the General Assembly, which was concurrently in session.
BSN, MSN, DNP and PhD student steeped in topics related to race, housing insecurity, even the intersection between an individual's race and their experience of weather and life expectancy.
"It's a 'how-to' for policy and advocacy," said Apple, "but also a 'why.' Framing policy work in the context of social justice speaks to the historical roots of nurse activism and the ethical tenets of the nursing profession. Hopefully, it lights a fire."
"This is a sharp crowd," Hardiman nodded to the group. "The General Assembly has too many lawyers, and not enough nurses. You are the experts. Y'all are it."