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Opinion: Student nursing organizations are practical labs for professional, political and interdisciplinary developments

Tuesday October 4, 2011
Anna L. Paskausky, RN
Anna L. Paskausky, RN
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Students practice clinical skills — why not political and professional ones?

Nursing comprises the largest group of healthcare providers, according to a recent report by the Institute of Medicine. Nursing is a vastly diverse profession, with all walks of life and educational levels represented. Part of the American Nurses Association code of ethics states that all nurses must try to make needed changes to systems, whether hospital or government, to improve the health of people. That lofty goal requires that nurses of all specialties and settings work together.

Student nurses associations offer the perfect opportunity to develop these essential skills for modern nursing, much like a hospital rotation helps develop clinical skills.

Professionalism

Student nurse organizations, whether undergraduate or graduate, can help students develop professionalism.

The activities and events of a student organization mirror the activities of professional organizations providing real-life experience in conceptualizing, organizing and promoting events in line with nursing goals.

For some students, a student nurse organization may be the first experience in group governance or professional etiquette. Others will be able to refine their skills and take on new levels of leadership and responsibility. Learning to disagree with colleagues yet find common ground on which to take action is essential if we are to increase the voice of nursing and protect the health of people everywhere.

Untapped power in numbers

Student nursing organizations often are under utilized in their ability to affect politics and policy. The sheer number of students in nursing could lead to real political influence if this was capitalized on. The diversity in nursing can make solidarity in political and policy issues daunting; however, negotiating interests among hundreds of people is an essential skill for later attempts to bring together larger segments of professional nurses.

Like clinical rotations, students in nursing programs should be encouraged to practice their political skills both on matters internal to their school, and in local, state and national matters affecting nursing practice.

If nurses do not have the skills to join together to affect policy in a small, intimate community like that often found in schools, how can they be expected to do so later in their careers?

Improving interdisciplinary relationships

Since it's clear that an increasingly interdisciplinary approach to healthcare is better for the health of patients, nurses must be armed with the skills to work side by side with other professionals in collegial ways. Student nursing associations could be the laboratories for relationships with other professional students, such as those in medicine, psychology, physical therapy and social work.

It is easy to stay within the field nurses know and love, but the obligation to promote the best care for patients means nurses need to become experts at collaboration.

If this starts during the student experience when so many habits and opinions are formed, imagine how much the interprofessional relationships in the workplace could be improved.

Practice makes perfect

No one expects student nurses to suddenly become clinical experts once they graduate, yet the expectation for nurses to have the professional, political and interdisciplinary skills to optimize patient care remains largely unsupported in the already cramped curriculums in schools of nursing.

Some nursing faculty, such as Rosanna DeMarco, ACRN, PhD, PHCNS-BC, FAAN and Nancy Allen, RN, PhD, ANP, at Boston College, have made contacting state representatives about nursing issues part of courses taught to graduate nursing students.

Schools of nursing should encourage such marriages of the academic and the political and consider offering incentives to students for participation in student nursing organizations. This could be a small credit requirement earned through participation in the organization. It also could be awards, tuition credit, or academic credit offered in conjunction with a professional role course for more extensive involvement in student nursing organizations.

Schools of nursing must be clear about the kind of nurses they hope to produce and the ways to educate those nurses. Student nurse organizations have the potential to be the laboratories and clinical rotation equivalents for building political, policy, and professional skills essential for the kind of nurses we need to move the profession forward in the 21st century.


Anna L. Paskausky, RN, BSN, BA, is a student in the MS/PhD program at Boston College, where she is a research fellow. She also is co-chair of the Graduate Nurses Association at Boston College and a staff nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.