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Nurse volunteers as ‘wayfinder’ at President Obama’s second-term ceremony


On Jan. 21, Janice Phillips, RN, PhD, FAAN, stood at the top of the escalators at Union Station in Washington, D.C., and waited for people heading to the National Mall to see Barack Obama get sworn in as U.S. president for a second time.

Phillips, an associate professor at Rush University in Chicago and a former Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Fellow, wore a red wool cap and lanyard with credentials from the 2013 Presidential Inaugural Committee. As an official volunteer “wayfinder,” she was tasked with greeting people and helping them find their way to the inauguration’s swearing-in ceremony.

“I said, ‘Good morning. Anyone need directions?’” Phillips said. “People got off the Metro and I was right there in their face. I directed tons of people.”

Phillips was one of about 3,000 volunteers from across the nation who paid their own expenses to help the 2013 presidential inauguration run more smoothly. Taking lessons learned from the 2009 inauguration, the committee divided the volunteers into 40 teams led by team captains.

“Volunteers stood in strategic places to supplement signage and helped the crowd flow smoothly in one direction,” Phillips said. “We were encouraged to be GREAT, which meant Greet and welcome every guest we saw; Remember to smile; Engage attendees with positivity; Anticipate needs and remain aware of all surroundings; and Thank all attendees for coming to the inauguration.”

Phillips contributed to the Obama campaign and volunteered for his election campaign. But she did not attend his first inauguration. It was through her campaign work and contributions that she was invited by the committee to serve as a volunteer, she said.

Other volunteer roles included helping out at the parade or inaugural ball, keeping the National Mall clean and assisting attendees in the special section for those with disabilities. Phillips said she wanted to be a wayfinder because she “wanted interaction with as many people as possible.”

The wayfinder role was needed because during the 2009 inauguration the record-breaking 1.8 million people who came to see the swearing in of the first black president were confused about where to go to see the various ceremonies. There were few signs or volunteers directing the throngs of people arriving by bus, Metro and on foot.

“My role was to study the map, know the layout of the land, where the medical services were stationed, the policies and procedures for the event, the schedule of inaugural activities, location of the Metro stops, etc.,” Phillips said. “We were strongly encouraged to memorize those types of things.”

The most memorable part of her inauguration experience, Phillips said, was “meeting different people and just being there to be of service — people seemed to appreciate that.”

Phillips, whose 30-year-plus nursing career includes numerous awards for her work in research, breast cancer prevention, healthcare disparities and teaching, is particularly interested in healthcare policy. In 2010, she was the only nurse selected for the yearlong Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Policy Fellowship in Washington, D.C., during which she saw for herself how healthcare policy is formulated, and as a nurse helped inform those decisions.

Janet Boivin, RN, is a freelance writer.


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