By Joseph Gaccione (UNLV School of Nursing Associate Director of Communications)
Every year, nursing students from across the country attend the National Student Nurses Association Convention. The NSNA is a non-regulatory body that promotes exemplary nursing practices through the sharing of resolutions and ideas among student nurses. The organization fosters professional nursing student development through discussion, workshops, and leadership opportunities.
This year, nearly a dozen UNLV students attended the 2022 NSNA Convention, with two appointed to the national board. Collectively, the board of directors maintains the resolutions generated by NSNA members and voted on at the convention. Resolution subjects range from a multitude of health-related issues, from building policy to combat racism to improving nurse-to-patient ratios.
But whether the students were elected or not, those who attended walked away with a greater understanding of what it means to be a nursing advocate.
Making an Immediate Impact
Amanda Gutierrez is finished with her first semester at UNLV Nursing, but she’s already been named NSNA Director. In this role, she helps plan future conventions and meetings and will serve as a member of the health policy and advocacy committee and membership committee. But she and other board members uphold the resolutions voted on. “It's our responsibility to kind of take those resolutions and determine the path of NSNA for the next 12 months,” she says.
Helping Gutierrez with her election was Nikole Taylor, who didn’t run for a position at NSNA but acted as Gutierrez’s campaign manager for Director. As manager, Taylor reinforced NSNA guidelines on the dos and don’ts of running for a certain position; as Taylor puts it, “being the devil’s advocate.” Outside of nomination support, Taylor was a convention delegate.
Janelle Rafanan was named to the NSNA Nomination and Election Committee, but it almost didn’t happen. Done with her second semester, she admits she was not only busy but intimidated by going to NSNA for the first time, so she didn’t apply for the position. But she wanted to be involved on a national scale of advocacy, so she ran from the floor on the day of nominations. She recalls, “Once I got a feel for what the board is like, what the students are like, I thought, ‘Okay, this is something I want to do.’” From the NEC, Rafanan helps students from Western states who are interested in running for office. Her support comes from identifying the most suitable position; setting expectations for running and campaigning; and making sure applications are submitted correctly.
Exposure to Change on a National Scale
Gutierrez says her first time at this year’s convention was hectic but insightful, particularly with focus sessions spearheaded by different experts. “I found those really helpful,” she says. “They had a good variety of different topics, from breastfeeding support all the way through health policy advocacy, how to reach out to your legislators, [and] army nursing versus civilian nursing.” Another takeaway for Gutierrez was meeting new students from other regions. “I think for UNLV students specifically, it was a cool bonding experience,” Gutierrez says. “It was fun to represent UNLV and see how different parts of the country felt on different topics. There was a lot of good debate.”
Rafanan agrees, saying her favorite part of the convention was meeting students from other schools. “I have only been to the Western side of the U.S. so it's cool to hear our differences in our background,” she says, “but also know we have one thing in common, which is our passion for nursing and taking care of patients.”
Taylor came away impressed with the convention’s focus on current nursing trends, particularly the impact of COVID-19. “I think [organizers] didn't want to shy away from that,” she explains. “They noticed a different path right now. It's a struggle for everybody involved, from nursing students to actual nurses and people behind-the-scenes. I appreciate them actually being open and honest about their experiences. It was eye-opening and insightful to see how this pandemic is affecting all aspects of nursing right now.” Taylor admittedly was shocked at first by how passionate some of these resolution debates unfolded. But she saw that passion was out of a desire to seek positive change. “It made me think there are other students my age across the world that care about their field that they're going into,” Taylor says. “It was empowering.” She contends despite heavy discussions on diversity, she would have liked to have seen more representation at the event. “I know we can still do better at that,” she says. “That's an everyday thing, as part of the conversation and continuing to work at it.”
Motivated To Be More Connected
Upon being accepted into UNLV Nursing, Gutierrez signed up for the UNLV Student Nurses Association to be more involved. She already graduated from college years ago but didn’t feel successful because she wasn’t more active. “I didn't do anything outside of going to class," she explains. "I wasn't really into my school culture. So, this time, getting a second shot at life, I wanted to commit to something and see where I could go with it.” Gutierrez previously worked in hospitality until COVID changed her career trajectory. “My restaurant completely shut down, never reopened, and that was the first push for me to find something that was a little bit more stable,” she says. Having an interest in health, she researched many related programs, but nursing wasn’t at the top at first. But she realized how much there was to being a nurse, and that feeling is stronger as she looks towards her second semester at UNLV. “I don't know why I waited so long to get into this, because I love it," she says. "The highlight of my week is working with patients.”
Being active is natural for Rafanan, who is a member of both UNLV SNA (level 2 representative) and UNLV Nursing’s Student Government (Level 2 President). Juggling multiple organizational roles with her classes can be challenging but she manages. “I've been on board for clubs before nursing school, so that was a huge help for me to know how to work with other board members and lead," Rafanan says. "That's a huge factor in my time management.” Having that leadership experience reinforced Rafanan’s focus on being an advocate for those around her. “We're an advocate for our cohorts, for our fellow students," she explains. "If they have a problem, they tell us and then we tell faculty. I feel being an advocate for my fellow students is also important for being an advocate for my future patient.”
Outside of class, Taylor is the communications director for the UNLV SNA. She didn’t want to miss out on a chance to go to the Convention now that it was back to in-person format. She says, “I thought if we had the opportunity, I wanted to experience being surrounded by other nursing students from across the country, trying to get to the same goal of becoming a nurse.” She added it was insightful to see what other nursing students have to go through. “I think it's nice we can all share our experiences," Taylor says. "Even if your program is a little longer or quicker, it doesn't put anybody on a pedestal.”
Being Part of Positive Change
For future resolutions, Gutierrez wants to call more attention to supporting members of our armed services. “Being that my husband is a disabled veteran, that's where my heart lies in nursing," she says. "I’d like to see more awareness, education, addressing mental health for veterans and health in general for veterans.” She also wants to continue the conversation on better nurse-to-patient ratios and how they can affect patient outcomes. “We're the last stop in the chain before the patients," Gutierrez says, "and we're the ones to advocate for safety.” Gutierrez adds, “I think the NSNA is a great platform to be able to help influence and advocate for nursing students.”
Watching nurses debate, coupled with her own administrative duties made Rafanan realize nursing students have a voice they can use. “I feel I was always taught teachers are up here, and students are [down] here,” Rafanan says, “but UNLV Nursing makes it feel like we're on the same level. If there's something wrong, we can work together to fix it.”
Taylor says she understands speaking up can be daunting, especially for new nurses acclimating to their surroundings. But she urges fellow young nurses not to be intimidated. “Even though you can feel fresh coming out of nursing school," she says, "it's okay to speak up about your worth and what you want in your career.” She adds this was the main reason she joined SNA, to be more proactive with her voice. “I [know that] sometimes it's okay to be quiet and reserved, but also there are times you need to speak up," Taylor says. "You need to be an advocate for yourself and for your patient's care.”
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