By Joseph Gaccione (UNLV School of Nursing Associate Director of Communications)
Student governments serve as groups tasked with discussing student issues and giving students a voice. The same is true at UNLV School of Nursing. In Spring 2021, school leaders held elections for the first iteration of its Student Government. Each undergraduate nursing level (1-4) voted on representatitives to build another bridge between students and instructors, to foster more communication and provide an outlet for discussion and feedback on the academic experience and how to improve it.
Once a month, all the student representatives meet with the student services director, brainstorming ideas for social events and discussing potential issues from each cohort. A year since the organization was created, members say it has lived up to its expectations. Through visible positive results, they praise the opportunity as enriching their experience as both students and nurses.
Nicolas Sanchez - President, Level 4
Nicolas Sanchez has been president of UNLV Student Government since he was a level 1 student, when the organization first formed. As president, he represents his entire cohort, facilitating communication between his classmates and faculty. He also works closely with his Vice President and Secretary to plan different events and find ways to keep the cohort organized and motivated. Among his notable contributions was helping plan the first interprofessional picnic in October 2021 among the schools of nursing, medicine and dental medicine.
Sanchez signed up for student government because he desired a leadership role. “While I was getting my first bachelor's degree, I never pushed myself to participate in any extracurricular activities, and I always had regret about that,” he says. “I felt this was my second chance to push myself out of my comfort zone and get some great experience. Plus, I was passionate about our program and wanted to help it thrive.”
Leading one organization is challenging enough when you’re a full-time student, but Sanchez is also president of UNLV’s Student Nurses Association, becoming the first nursing student to hold both roles simultaneously. He admits while he considers this his biggest accomplishment, it is far from easy. “There have been times when I thought I put too much upon myself,” Sanchez says. “I had high expectations for what I wanted to accomplish. I take my responsibilities one day at a time and ask for help when I need it.” Sanchez goes on to say that while the time spent as double president cut into his social life and split his focus more than he expected, he doesn’t regret taking on the added workload. “I know that I will look back and be proud of my leadership roles,” he says. “I just hope my classmates and board members are also proud of what I was able to do in my roles.”
If anything, these higher up positions taught him valuable lessons, like delegating when necessary and remembering self-care. Sanchez says, “I tend to put the needs of others before myself and that backfired this past year. I overlooked mental health and did not think it was important. Now, I preach the importance of mental health whenever I speak to incoming students.” Sanchez adds, for future government members, he urges them to communicate often, especially as you get busier with classes and other responsibilities. “If you do not ask for help or put time aside daily (even just 5 minutes), you can find yourself lost and become overwhelmed,” he states. “No one expects perfection in your role, but it is important to expect accountability in yourself.”
Furthermore, Sanchez feels the organization did its job of connecting the students with faculty more than before. “From my experience in faculty meetings, the administrators and instructors were excited to hear about what the students had to say,” he says. "Being more involved, we felt both respected and heard.”
Natalie Solano – Vice-President, Level 3
Natalie Solano may be her cohort’s vice president, but to her, it's just a title. Each member is there to help out within and outside their set roles. She says, “We all pick up the slack whenever one of us can't, kind of blending in with each other, regardless of the position.” Solano has been vice-president since her first semester. She says it was about pushing herself to be more sociable and involved. “I knew that nursing school was going to be difficult,” Solano admits. “I assumed if I take on a position, I'm going to force myself to try to go to all the events and it did help.”
Those events, she says, have helped not just her, but her classmates from splitting off into their own cliques and meeting new people. “I think we all really support each other,” Solano says. “[If] one of our cohort members runs for an SNA position or something, we're all posting in our little group chat to vote for them, and we all congratulate them. Any birthdays, we're all singing happy birthday in class. From what I can tell, we are pretty welcoming with everyone, and we are united as a cohort.”
Solano says improved communication is the biggest leadership skill she’s developed, something she’s applied not only in student government but as a nurse, too. “I didn’t realize going into nursing school how important communication was,” she says. “You talk to a patient, and you're telling them one thing, but they might not understand what you're saying. You have to take into consideration their emotions and what they're feeling and address that because if not, it's hard to work with them.” Whether she’s talking with patients or cohort members, she has the same approach if an issue arises: step back, take a deep breath, and plan her response.
A key ally in student government is Elizabeth Gardner, UNLV Nursing’s Student Services Director. She is there as both a facilitator between students and faculty but also, as Solano alludes to, a beacon of encouragement for the organization. “Elizabeth doesn't want us to burden ourselves,” she says. “School is always the first thing, like we're going to study for this exam, and then when the time comes, we'll get back to planning this service event.” She clarifies her cohort tries to pick events that will fit into their schedules. “Most of the time, we're just looking for something we can all do to help the community that isn't going to stress any of us out in the end,” she explains. “There's always something you can help with even with just a short amount of time.”
Marielle Anne Cuenca – Secretary, Level 2
Since her first semester, Marielle Anne Cuenca has helped student government stay organized as secretary, taking notes and keeping track of all the various ideas proposed. For her, it was an opportunity to claim a leadership title and better herself. “I wanted to take it all in and seize all the opportunities I can to make the most out of my time here since it's so short,” Cuenca explains. Like Sanchez, she balances her government secretarial duties by doing largely the same tasks for SNA. Between the two organizations and her classes, she admits she’s still looking for that ideal balance. “Sometimes I let things slip through the cracks, but naturally I'm human,” Cuenca says. “I am honestly trying to push my best effort into every single one. I'm very satisfied with my work so far.”
What Cuenca says she’s learned the most in student government is having confidence to speak up. She recently attended an advisory meeting with Dean Angela Amar, where representatives from each cohort shared concerns. Cuenca says although she used to feel nervous talking directly to the Dean, she spoke up and engaged her on the topic of hospital shifts, and the Dean recognized her concerns and brought up alternative solutions. “Anything we bring up to her, she does consider,” Cuenca says, “and it's good to be heard by the people that we respect the most.”
Although Cuenca says each cohort in student government understandably focuses on their own levels, she says she looks forward to the times they can work together. “I especially like listening to what the cohorts above me are doing, because that's what I'm going to be doing next semester.”
Among the biggest achievements Cuenca cites from student government is increasing student engagement via social media and ultimately serving as a bigger sounding board for her cohort. Seeing positive results personally and as a group, Cuenca says for potential future members, if they have even a small desire to make a difference, they should just give it a shot. “I have no regrets,” she states. “It's given me confidence to keep going. I have confidence not only in my ability to be a nurse with my studies, but to be more interactive with my classmates, with my teachers, staff, and even up to the Dean.” She adds, “ I wanted to make the most out of my time in nursing school. Not only am I making my experience better, but I'm able to make the experience of my whole cohort better.”