The Power of Partnerships

Aug 17, 2011, 12:00 PM, Posted by Paul Putman


By Paul Putman, M.S.Ed., M.A.

Program Officer, The Cleveland Foundation

Ohio faces a nursing shortage that is expected to be particularly severe. So when I was asked by one of our state’s nurse leaders to help her alert members of Ohio’s congressional delegation and share recommendations from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) report on the Future of Nursing, I was happy to participate. In my role as a program officer with The Cleveland Foundation I have been lucky enough to play the role of “non nurse” more than once.

Our goal as partners in this iteration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s (RWJF’s) Connect project was to share the Institute of Medicine (IOM) report on the Future of Nursing with members of our congressional delegation as part of the Campaign for Action. Though I am not a nurse, I knew I had a modicum of knowledge which was strengthened by a commitment to the recommendations of the report. I was also able to convey the message that those recommendations can positively impact health care overall, and that this isn’t a special interest type of report, but rather one that will impact all of us.

For those unfamiliar, the Campaign for Action was launched in late 2010 by RWJF in partnership with AARP. The campaign builds upon the IOM’s report on the Future of Nursing which is a blueprint for transforming the nursing profession to improve health care. The Campaign is supporting efforts across the country to engage diverse stakeholders in implementing the recommendations of the report.

When my Ohio partner and I found out that we would indeed be participating in the Connect program, I was pretty excited. Although it was not my first trip to Washington, it would be my first time on the Hill in any capacity beyond tourist.

Then I received the resource manual, and a sense of “what did I agree to?” began to set in. Then I was excited. Then nervous. Then overwhelmed. Then determined. Then confident; excited; nervous; unsure; etc. Our Ohio team was soon introduced to our coach, who helped us navigate the process from advance preparation through successful implementation.

Five discoveries that occurred during my participation in the Connect program:

  1. The pace of everything in Washington, DC is fast and focused. Congressional staff members have seemingly nonstop meetings scheduled back-to-back, often in 15-minute increments. When kayaking the whitewater rapids of Washington, you quickly adjust to the flow, focus your paddling, and avoid the rocks as best you can.
  2. In contrast to preconceived stereotypes, political party affiliation did not significantly impact our meetings. Members of Congress and their staff members were helpful, polite, and knowledgeable – and we agreed on much more than we disagreed.
  3. Telling a story is not as simple as it sounds. It took a lot of work to move from gathering ideas to selecting a story to rehearsing, changing, refining, and delivering the story. The end product is one with which we were pleased, but the process of sharing early drafts with a large group for feedback was admittedly challenging to those of us who do not move in the world as extreme extroverts.
  4. Preparation really does equal success. The Connect team has honed/refined the congressional meeting and preparation process to a science – but also an art – the metaphor escapes me, but if you put in the time to read, prepare, and fully participate in the Connect process your meetings and subsequent relationships with congressional staff members are quite likely to be successful.
  5. The coaches are of immense value. Each coach had only a few weeks to take us rookies from the farm team to professional play. From assisting us in selecting and honing our story to physically helping us navigate unfamiliar buildings, it’s hard to say enough about how helpful they are.

In my work with a project funded in part by Partners Investing in Nursing’s Future (PIN) (a partnership of RWJF and Northwest Health Foundation), I’ve been reminded of the power of partnerships and how expanding the circle of participants enriches the project as well as those involved in the process. The Connect program has already helped advance our work on that innovative project to help master’s prepared nurses who are not full-time faculty members learn how to teach online courses effectively. In addition, participation has helped Ohio move much closer to forming a formal regional action coalition for nursing. Personally, the Connect program has helped demystify congressional offices and staffing; provided useful tools for communicating effectively with our national elected officials; and instilled confidence for future advocacy efforts.

The looming nursing shortage is daunting, especially for Ohio, but with our enhanced partnerships and new connections to our congressional delegation, we are ready to face future challenges head-on.

Read more about the recent training organized by the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action for nurse leaders and other health leaders from 25 states.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.