By Steven Krolak
(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)–It’s common for political science students to visit legislators at the state capital.
Nursing students? Not so much.
Thanks to the initiative of Rosalind Scott Williams, clinical assistant professor of nursing, 25 students from CLASS traveled to Indianapolis earlier this year for a Health Policy and Advocacy Day.
This initiative was developed in S485, Professional Growth and Empowerment.
“The experience allows senior nursing students to engage with their legislators about health care issues impacting their patients and profession,” Williams said.
The trip to the capital grew out of Williams’ own participation in the IU School of Nursing’s Legislative Fellowship while earning her graduate degree at IUPUI. This fellowship was part of an Eagles Mentoring Program led by Dr. Sharron Crowder, clinical associate professor of nursing at IUPUI, and Rep. Ed Clere. Williams is still a part of the program, from which she drew important lessons.
“I learned how nurses have a powerful voice when educating legislators and advocating for health policy bills that affect their patients and profession,” Williams said.
While at the Statehouse, the nursing students and Jennifer Teater, visiting assistant clinical professor, met with State Reps. Ed Clere and Karen Engleman, who discussed Indiana’s participation in the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC), which will allow nurses to cross state lines to provide medical services. Rep. Clere authored legislation to enable Indiana to join the NLC in July.
They also discussed bipartisanship and issues affecting their local communities such as the opioid epidemic and employment benefits for pregnant women in the workforce to reduce pre-term births. They were also present on the House Chamber Floor to witness resolutions recognizing long-term care professionals and celebrating Black History Month, and votes on bills decreasing the cost for insulin for individuals with diabetes and establishing resources for mental health counseling in schools.
Nurses have more power than they realize, according to Williams. That power comes from the trust and respect that the profession enjoys, making nurses reliable sources of expertise and influential spokespersons for the needs of the healthcare sector.
But to translate all that potential power into results, they need more awareness of the ways they can positively impact policies that affect them.
That involves not only understanding the legislative process, but also getting to know their legislators personally.
“Before our students graduate, we want them to know they have this opportunity to address those issues that are impacting them, their profession and their community,” Williams said.
Brent Potter, a senior nursing major, was glad the House was actually in session, as students had the opportunity to witness policy being made.
“This experience gave me the chance to actually see all the different parts that have to come together for policies to be changed,” Potter said. “Learning about it in the classroom is one thing, but actually seeing it with your own eyes gives you such a deeper understanding.”
Potter had never visited the Statehouse or spoken with a legislator. Now he feels comfortable with both.
“Everybody has something they think should be changed or could be improved, but they may not know how to advocate for that change,” Potter said. “Going to the State house and talking to the representatives gives everyone the chance to advocate for that change in person and learn how to do it for the future.”
Homepage photo: Nursing students discuss health policy with State Rep. Karen Engleman (R-Georgetown) in the halls of the Indiana Statehouse. Photo courtesy of Rosalind Scott Williams.