Virginia Nurse Leaders Score Early Victories in Campaign to Transform Nursing

State's Action Coalition helped push for new law loosening restrictions on nurse practitioners and win other accomplishments in its first year.

    • June 28, 2012

Last month, the Virginia Action Coalition held a small-dollar fundraiser that brought in more than $8,000—and support in other ways, as well.

Donations came pouring into the campaign, even from unexpected sources, said Laura Nakoneczny, CAE, IOM, CEO of the Virginia Nurses Association and co-leader of the Virginia Action Coalition. A local janitor left a small donation with a note that said he wanted to honor the nurses who helped his wife in her final days of life, and a small boy gave a handful of quarters as a way to thank the nurse who had wrapped his sprained ankle in bandages.

“What we learned is even more valuable” than the money, Nakoneczny said. “Everything we’re working on, every hour that we do it, is making a difference to the citizens of the commonwealth. This work that we’re doing goes beyond nursing.”

The Virginia Action Coalition has been in place for a little over a year, and it is already racking up key victories in its campaign to transform nursing in the state.

The coalition helped push for a new law that loosens restrictions on nurse practitioners; has created a nursing workforce forecasting model that is in use by numerous hospitals; drafted a white paper on the need for more data on the state’s nursing workforce; made progress toward coordinating regional workgroups of education and practice partners on seamless education progression; completed a survey that identifies emerging nurse leaders and leadership opportunities for nurses to serve on boards; and established an interdisciplinary partnership with the state’s medical society, the faculty of medical and nursing schools, and private corporate partners.

In addition to all of that, the coalition has launched its own website, recruited more than 200 volunteers to the campaign, and receives numerous requests to speak about its work throughout the state each month.

“The success comes from leaders who are passionate about the future of nursing and who want to make a difference,” said Shirley Gibson, MSHA, RN, FACHE, president of the Virginia Nurses Association and co-leader of the Virginia Action Coalition. “Nursing leaders in Virginia feel there is no better time than today for nursing to take the opportunity to change nursing for the future and ultimately ensure safe, quality care for the people of our fine commonwealth.”

The coalition was officially recognized in March of last year by the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action, a collaborative effort of AARP, the AARP Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) to implement solutions to the challenges facing the nursing profession and to build upon nurse-based approaches to improving quality and transforming the way Americans receive health care.

Soon after the coalition was recognized, leaders reached out to the Virginia chapter of AARP, which agreed to serve as the coalition’s non-nursing co-lead, and to various statewide organizations, more than 20 of which are now coalition partners. Leaders also secured early funding from the Virginia Nurses Association; the Virginia Nurses Foundation; the Virginia Council of Nurse Practitioners; and the Virginia Partnership for Nursing.

In the meantime, coalition leaders recruited volunteers and created subgroups focusing on five areas: education, scope of practice, leadership, workforce data, and interprofessional collaboration. They held their first organizational meeting in April of 2011, and followed up with a formal launch last June, which was attended by 150 nurses from across the state. After that came an awards program to recognize 40 emerging nurse leaders under the age of 40—an event that generated publicity across the state for the honorees and the coalition.

Coalition leaders show no signs of slowing down. They have held three meetings this year with co-leaders of the five workgroups; and the workgroups meet monthly. In September, they will host two major events in a single day: a fundraising gala to honor workgroup participants and their achievements; and an “education day” to precede it.

The “education day” will feature a keynote address by Linda Aiken, PhD, RN, FAAN, a nurse researcher who directs the Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research at the University of Pennsylvania. Subjects include “improving patient outcomes through advances in nursing” and Aiken’s research linking greater nurse education with improved patient outcomes. A poster session and panel discussion on engaging direct care nurses in research are also planned.

Playing Up Advantages

Gibson attributes the coalition’s early success to a strong history of work in the state to transform nursing and to its close allies at AARP and other partner organizations.

Another advantage? Virginia is home to projects that have been funded in recent years by Partners Investing in Nursing’s Future (PIN), a partnership of the Northwest Health Foundation and RWJF to support the capacity, involvement and leadership of local foundations to advance the nursing profession in their own communities.

Virginia nurses also participated in Colleagues in Caring: Regional Collaboratives for Nursing Workforce Development, a national program funded by RWJF designed to streamline the nursing education system and increase the capacity and attractiveness of the nursing profession. The program, which concluded in 2003, helped lay the foundation for the Virginia Action Coalition, Gibson said.

“Virginia’s nurses have been cooperating with external partners for years and years,” Nakoneczny said. “One of our advantages is that we have the infrastructure in place and preexisting relationships to take the campaign to the next level.”

The state does face challenges, however. Virginia is geographically diverse, with mountains in the west, coastline in the east, and large expanses of hard-to-reach rural areas. In addition, the state’s nurse education programs are decentralized, making it difficult for nurses to move easily from associate- to baccalaureate-degree nursing programs across the state. And Virginia has some strict nursing practice regulations, although a key one regarding physician supervision of nurse practitioners was lifted earlier this year thanks in part to the work of the coalition and a collaboration between nurses and physicians. Fundraising and sustaining volunteer models also present challenges.

But Gibson is optimistic about the future. “We are confident with the continued passion and commitment of Virginia nurses and the support from the Center to Champion Nursing in America (CCNA), we will overcome any challenges that we have today or what lies ahead of us.”