I’m Christine Smothers, a nursing student from Cleveland, Ohio. I attended the 2019 ANHE Nursing Summit in Nashville, Tennessee from May 6-7, 2019. Here are my thoughts as an attendee!
I came to the ANHE Summit for two reasons: one, because I wanted to know what I could do as a nursing student, and two, because I was curious about current trends in environmental practices.
By the end of the two days, I had discovered the potential we have as nursing students to transform healthcare.
The most inspiring part of attending the Summit was witnessing my voice create real change.
I joined a roundtable discussion about nursing education, interested as a student to see what topics were important to nursing leaders for the environment. Little did I know I would be doing much more than listening or taking notes. I discovered a unique opportunity: I was the only nursing student sitting at the table. I could directly speak to the current experiences of nursing students to answer questions in the minds of leading nursing faculty from all over the country.
I shared the struggles that we face as students, as it can be difficult for us to propose changes to nursing programs. The faculty sitting at the table with me realized that they have a unique ability to advocate for students. We started sharing ideas about strengthening communication with students, creating new ways for educators to expand their credentials–and I realized I had changed the conversation at the table.
Even more inspiring was that my influence extended beyond the conversation. After the faculty included my feedback, they invited me to present on behalf of the whole roundtable. Then, priorities were selected from my presentation and other groups’ presentations. At the end of the conference, ANHE announced that these priorities would be written up into an action plan for the organization.
I couldn’t believe that, as a student, I had just helped shape the future of ANHE.
The precedent that ANHE set at the Summit is one I hope to see reflected in other organizations. If the perspective of one nursing student can change the conversation at ANHE, imagine what we can do when we can bring more nursing students and nurses together.
Nursing students have a perspective that is crucial if we will effectively tackle profession-wide issues like our nationwide shortage of nurses and faculty, and related issues like burnout, fatigue, and the many health sacrifices we make every day to serve others. We can offer the experience of going through today’s nursing schools, and the ability to carry forward tomorrow’s vision for nursing. And as nursing students, we can influence the response of the nursing profession in addressing pressing environmental issues such as climate change.
The Summit generated high level collaboration in its two days. Activities at the Summit included talks from national leaders, nurses sharing high impact initiatives, discussion roundtables for everyone to brainstorm ideas for the future of environmental health nursing together, and networking to meet other nurses just as excited about action as me.
From these activities, I discovered new dimensions of healthcare that we can influence with the voice of nursing.
For example, it’s always mystified me that in the hospital we have so many plastic tools that simplify our work, but end up in the trash. On my first day of clinical, I saw a plastic basin wider than a basketball and thicker than a water bottle get thrown away after being filled once with water and soap. Before the Summit I wondered if this happened anywhere else.
ANHE didn’t just discuss the issue—they brought together real success stories explaining how to reduce waste. Multiple speakers shared their work as members of green teams and councils to develop recycling programs (I didn’t even know it was possible to recycle!), minimize reliance on single use products, and uncover health implications of this plastics-based system. It felt like I had just discovered a new discipline of healthcare. These nurses advocating to optimize our tools for patient care are transforming entire hospitals with their work, and many lives of both patients and staff in the process.
My next step in utilizing my experiences here is to help more nursing students access incredible opportunities like the ANHE Summit. It was great to be surrounded by so many nurses who recognized how to leverage their experiences to make a difference on a greater scale.
As nursing students, we work alongside our nurses in the hospital—imagine how we could transform practice with the connections and resources from organizations like ANHE.
The more nursing students we can bring to these decision-making tables, the more we are investing into the future of nursing.
A sample of Summit activities from left to right: Left: Anabell Castro-Thompson, immediate past President of National Association of Hispanic Nurses, shares her work to strengthen diversity and inclusion in nursing. Middle: Bev Malone, CEO of National League for Nurses, shares her experiences in nursing leadership. Right: Cara Cook, Program Coordinator for ANHE, shares her advocacy to end fracking in Maryland.
Christine Smothers is a BSN student at Case Western Reserve University. Her experiences as a nursing student and researcher have informed her mission to amplify nurses’ voice at the decision-making tables.