Give Students a Voice in Their Education

Sep 10, 2012, 9:00 AM, Posted by

As students settle back into school and the nation finishes its Labor Day celebration, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Human Capital Blog is asking diverse experts: What is and isn’t working in health professions education today, and what changes are needed to prepare a high-functioning health and health care workforce that can meet the country’s current and emerging needs? Today’s post is by Joseph Potts, president of the National Student Nurses Association.


One of the many privileges of being elected president of the National Student Nurses Association (NSNA) is that I get the opportunity to meet with nurses and nursing students from all walks of life. A question I try to always ask when these situations arise is: “What would you most like to change about nursing and or nursing school.” The answers that I get range from uniforms, bullying, and autonomy to issues with working hours and pay.


The thing that I most consistently hear, though, is the answer to my follow-up question: “Why do you think this problem persists?” Almost always, the response to this question is a form of: “Well, that is how it’s always been.”

I hate this answer! Why does a profession that believes whole-heartedly in evidence-based practice for its patients not apply the same principle to its social and cultural structure? Why do so many of us still refuse to examine, with the same vigor that we examine the quality of a patient’s life, the quality of life of a nurse or even a nursing student? Perhaps the extent to which this mentality puzzles and irritates me is because at the main community I have been involved with as a nursing student, the University of North Florida (UNF), this is not an issue.

In my opinion, there is one reason UNF has been able to avoid, or at least move beyond, this issue of complacency and evolve with the rapidly changing face of nursing, nurses, and nursing students. Simply put, the faculty at UNF isn’t just willing to listen to feedback from their students.  They intentionally seek it. A great example of this is our School of Nursing committees.

In congruence with the rights and responsibilities the NSNA has encouraged all schools of nursing to adopt, UNF School of Nursing has given students a voice in their education by developing committees that are comprised of both students and faculty. The committees vote on many of the decisions that affect the day-to-day experiences of both nursing students and faculty such as which textbooks to use or the integration of technology. To me, these committees are a perfect way to initiate nursing students into the types of interprofessional leadership roles the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM’s) Future of Nursing Report calls for nurses to fill.

I am happy to say though that the battle to move nursing out of the status quo mentality is being addressed even at the highest levels of the profession. Recently, I had the honor of attending the American Nurses Association House of Delegates. While there, I observed an organization that was open to change to the point that it was altering its very core structure. As long as the rest of nursing heeds the ANA’s example and utilizes the roadmap provided to us by the IOM, nursing and thus health care will be fine.

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