Engagement and Empowerment Provide a Strong Foundation to Advance Nursing in Wisconsin

Feb 27, 2013, 9:00 AM, Posted by Judith Hansen

Judith Hansen, MS, BSN, RN, is the executive director of the Wisconsin Center of Nursing and co-lead of the Wisconsin Action Coalition.


Since the release of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) report, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, leaders in Wisconsin have made concerted efforts to plan well and engage nurses and key stakeholders. Our goal is to empower them with a firm foundation so they will be ready to implement the report’s recommendations.

Our first task was to create awareness and knowledge of the IOM Report, so initial efforts began even before we were designated as a state Action Coalition. In September 2010, the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW) School of Nursing launched the report by bringing ‘home’ Donna Shalala, PhD, FAAN, former chancellor at UW.  

Shalala, also a former head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, chaired the Committee on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Initiative on the Future of Nursing, at the IOM, and provided a powerful keynote address to engage the nurses of Wisconsin. To continue this process, the Wisconsin Center for Nursing (WCN), utilizing its partnership and grant funding through the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, sponsored a summit in May, 2011.

As the state’s nursing workforce center, WCN has existing partnerships with a vast array of partners including the Wisconsin Nurses’ Association, the Wisconsin Nurses’ Coalition, the Administrators of Nursing Education in Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Organization of Nurse Executives, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, the Wisconsin Healthcare Workforce Data Collaborative, and baccalaureate and technical school education programs.

We have also engaged health systems, labor, legislative and health policy partners, as well as a composite of the state’s minority nursing associations. The mission of WCN—to ensure an adequate state nursing workforce to meet current and future health care needs—aligns perfectly with the IOM’s recommendations to advance nursing.

This first summit focused on two key themes:  the scope of nursing practice and an improved data infrastructure. The conference was attended by nearly 250 nurses and key stakeholders and featured Peter Buerhaus, PhD, RN, FAAN, a professor of nursing and director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Health Workforce Studies at the Institute for Medicine and Public Health at Vanderbilt University, as a keynote speaker. Archived webcasts of the presentations were provided through partners at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services Bureau of Information & Technology Services, bringing the number of participants to more than 500 individuals.

The afternoon was devoted to “formin’ and normin’” state regional groups for the purpose of critical dialogue and to gathering insights from the different regions of the state, each of which has unique needs. This activity provided a strong component of “ownership” to our state efforts. Secondly, it served to initiate the formation of a statewide database for the purpose of communicating activities and progress.

Becoming an Action Coalition in September, 2011, further defined our ability to empower and engage nurses and key stakeholders. The alliance formed between WCN and the Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative, a comprehensive network of nearly three dozen health systems in the state. As co-leads, WCN and the Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative opened new channels to both nurses and non-nurses to further support the Campaign.

Crucial start-up funding was provided by the Faye McBeath Foundation, a southeastern Wisconsin philanthropic organization that has a long-standing record of success with projects supported by Partners Investing in Nursing’s Future (PIN), an initiative of RWJF and the Northwest Health Foundation.  

Kick-off activities for the Action Coalition involved extensive meetings throughout the state in the already-established regions to gather feedback on how we would go forward with implementation of the recommendations in Wisconsin. These meetings were attended by hundreds of nurses. 

Our second summit in June, 2012, promoted another key message from the IOM report: the need for interprofessional education and collaboration, and once again attracted nearly 200 participants. New partnerships also emerged at a special stakeholder’s meeting hosted by AARP Wisconsin, which strengthened the foundation and sparked forward momentum for Action Coalition activities.

A third statewide summit, being planned for June 2013, will be dedicated to strategies for the critical need for increased diversity in our nurses. This conference will inform participants of important survey and data analyses being done by WCN on the state’s nursing workforce and the work of the WCN Diversity Task Force. A report of task force activities and recommendations to enhance recruitment and retention of traditionally under-represented populations will be disseminated, and nationally-recognized diversity experts will deliver presentations.

We in Wisconsin believe the power of data, in tandem with the power of partnerships, will inform and engage myriad individuals and groups to be ready for this work.  The resulting unification we have experienced though foundational efforts has positioned us well and empowered key players to be ready to direct the future of nursing.

Read more about the work of the Wisconsin Action Coalition here.

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