VNA Lobby Day - Ashley Apple and students.
A group of nursing students and their prof went to VA's House of Delegates to get a look at what nurse advocacy looks like, earning applause along the way.

Grayce Gunn (BSN `24) doesn’t lurk on the sidelines.

She’s participated in a women’s march and Black Lives Matter gathering and been involved in advocacy for LGBTQ rights. But taking part in the Virginia Nurses Association “Lobby Days” at the Virginia House of Delegates in early January, while less rowdy, felt equally meaningful, she said.

“This made me realize how much I can give input as a nurse,” said Gunn, a Chester, Va., native enrolled in the Accelerated BSN program, “how much I can change things for the better.”

Ditto for Lindsay Wilson (BSN `24), a former cardiac tech and journalism student from Seattle, Wa., who’d last marched for patient safety in January 2020 just as COVID struck. “The experience definitely reignited my passion for advocacy,” Wilson said.

Wilson, Gunn, and third-year BSN student Breanna Roach (BSN `25) took part in the VNA’s annual legislative event at the urging of their professor Ashley Apple, the VNA’s commissioner on government relations, a practicing family nurse practitioner, and an assistant professor with a penchant for tying classroom lessons back to policy. Given that just nine percent of American RNs ever join a professional nursing association—a fact Apple routinely cites in class—the profession’s political power is open wide for growth.

"Activities like this one, though, remind us of the bigger picture, and why I uprooted my entire life to come here. It’s why I chose UVA; it’s all the things.”

Lindsay Wilson, ABSN student and a member of the BSN Class of 2024, who attended VNA's Lobby Days with prof. Apple

“Even the lessons in pathophysiology, she gets you thinking about policy,” said Wilson, “and that approach, tying those themes together, is really what drew me to UVA. Having that balance in the curriculum is important.”

At issue as the House of Delegates opened its 2023 session were a host of bills impacting nursing, including a provision to ensure a school nurse in every Virginia elementary, middle, and high school; funding for preceptors for nursing graduate students; and a bill that would eliminate the five-year collaborative practice period for nurse practitioners, allowing them to practice autonomously from the time of licensure.

After circulating with other members of the Virginia Nurses Association through the State House, the UVA group chatted with a host of legislators, including Senators Creigh Deeds, Emmet Hangar, and Ghazala Hashmi, Delegate Sally Hudson, and Senator Jennifer Boysko who urged them to “tell [their] stories”—something Wilson took to heart.

“Sometimes things can get messy because politics have become so taboo, and people don’t want to offend,” said Wilson, “but we all have a story to tell and shouldn’t try to depersonalize things. [Boysko] was really authentic; I really felt like she really truly cared.”

The caring was also clear from as Del. Dawn Adams (MSN ’89) publicly introduced the visitors, prompting a round of applause for nurses from the chamber floor.

“It was really emotional,” said Gunn, “and especially as a student, being among other nurses: it made me feel like I was a part of them.”

Roach, a third-year BSN, felt empowered by watching nurses like Apple “have meaningful discussions with delegates about their experiences and why the bills are important.”

It “made me feel optimistic,” Roach said, “and also really proud to be a future nurse.”

“No, I don’t like the fact that we have to lobby and fight this hard for things that should be common practice at this point,” mused Wilson. “Activities like this one, though, reminds us of the bigger picture, and why I uprooted my entire life to come here. It’s why I chose UVA; it’s all the things.”