The WSNA delegation. Seated: Lynnette Vehrs and David Keepnews. Standing: (left to right) Martha Goodall, Judy Huntington, Jacob Garcia, Rosa Young, Sue Glass, Mikey Anne O’Sullivan, Ruth Schubert, Anita Stull, Chuck Cumiskey, Antwinett Lee, Phoebe Lim-Vuong, Edna Cortez, Ian Mikusko, Gloria Brigham, Michelle Moore and Brenda Balough.
As a nursing student and then a new nurse not too long ago, I was fortunate to meet mentors who encouraged and supported me to be involved in student nurses and then nurses associations. Recently, I was honored to be one of 13 delegates to represent Washington state at the annual American Nurses Association (ANA) Membership Assembly in Washington, D.C., where I discovered that whether you are an experienced or inexperienced nurse, you have a voice. If you are looking for a story about how the Membership Assembly is supposed to go through an experienced lens, you might want to look elsewhere. My article comes from the lens of a novice, minority first-generation nurse with limited experience in healthcare advocacy.
A week before the Membership Assembly, our delegates had a meeting with WSNA Executive Director Dr. David Keepnews. He ran through our agenda and addressed any concerns we had for the trip. Being a Type-A person, I took extensive notes and had my schedule prepared and ready to go, thinking that if I stuck to the plan and followed the direction, I would (mostly) be OK, but I soon learned that I still had a lot to learn.
The day prior to the Assembly was called Hill Day, where ANA arranged meetings between state nurses and their respective senators and representatives in Washington, D.C. Being jet lagged, I overslept and missed the entire morning briefing, where we were to learn about the legislative issues that ANA was working on. Lynnette Vehrs, our WSNA president, must have seen through my panic as I dashed into the room at the last minute. She invited me to join her table, shared her personal experience of missing her first meeting to ease my nerves, and gave me her pearl of wisdom for Hill Day: Share my personal stories on those critical issues that I have first hand experience on.
Despite being full of self-doubt, I applied the advice anyway, reassuring myself that the legislators would not remember my face or see me again. To my surprise, our advocacy group had a great discussion with the lawmakers’ offices on the bills that were in the pipeline addressing prior authorization, workplace violence, and advanced registered nurse practitioner full practice authority. It was not without challenges. Our group of three first-time, dove-eyed attendees shared a memorable, or should I say petrified, moment being escorted out by capital police for unknowingly trespassing on a blocked area while trying to navigate between meetings in the capitol.
The next two days were dedicated to the Membership Assembly. One of my favorite parts was the Dialogue Forum, which gave members a chance to share their stories and voice their concerns focusing on climate change, workplace violence, and staffing on the first day. The ANA policy committee then came back on the second day with recommendations or visions for how they planned on addressing these concerns. Then, voting members debated and voted on the proposed recommendations, or made amendments.
I was in awe of the negotiation process, coalition building, and strategic planning behind every nursing policy, advancement, and creation that happened not only on the floor in those two days but also outside of Membership Assembly over the years that have made nursing what it is today. The process was messy, as the emotions and tensions were high. The state delegates did not agree on everything. In fact, they rarely agreed on anything. Regardless, I admired the courage of those who spoke up and shared their insights, thoughts, and experience, sometimes against majority support.
Despite our differences, at the end of the day, the nurses and nurse leaders at the Membership Assembly were able to come together to discuss, share, listen, and challenge the status quo in a safe space where we listened and celebrated our differences. We also found unity through our shared experience of loss and sacrifice working in the COVID-19 pandemic. ANA president Dr. Ernest Grant led us through the Nightingale ceremony as we grieved those who lost their lives during the pandemic and aimed for a better, safer, and more disaster-ready future of the nursing profession.
Additionally, ANA also passed the Racial Reckoning Statement during the 2022 Membership Assembly, admitting and apologizing to nurses of color for its long-standing history of racism and presenting their plan for healing and reconciliation moving forward. This could not have happened without the voices of minority nurses, who shared their experiences and fought alongside other nurses to bring this issue to the front line. As a nurse of color, I know I will be watching and holding ANA accountable for their promises to the nursing community.
The Assembly ended with the introduction of the new Board of Directors, one of whom was my former mentor of the Student Nurses Association of Illinois (SNAI), Amanda Oliver, who believed in engaging more students and newly graduated nurses in nurse advocacy and leadership, preparing and supporting the future leaders in nursing.
Nevertheless, I would be lying if I said I was not feeling the imposter syndrome, being in a room full of nurse leaders who had shaped the nursing profession in the past decades. Here I was, googling new terms, affiliate organizations, nurse leaders, and nursing history as well as issues I was not aware that I had as a nurse. It was like learning a whole new language, researching the new vocabulary that came up in conversation and presentation to supplement my minimal healthcare advocacy base knowledge.
It was overwhelming, exciting, uncomfortable, inspiring, terrifying, yet hopeful — all these emotions happening simultaneously. I am forever grateful for the WSNA and King County Nurses Association leaders and delegates who took me under their wings over the few days of the Assembly, mentoring and supporting me as I was trying to fake it until I made it (barely). All jokes aside, it was both an honor and an intimidating moment to realize that I am now a part of the history and future of nursing.
It was challenging as I feel inadequately prepared for Membership Assembly, but it was also encouraging knowing that this was only the first step, as I was told that it does get better with time. The experience was also a reminder that we, as nurses, have a voice and the power to write the next chapter of our profession. I left the Assembly feeling inspired to continue the work of nurses who came before me and laid the groundwork to inspire, nurture, and elevate the next generation of nurse leaders.
Phoebe Lim-Vuong is currently a WSNA director at large, Washington State Nurses Foundation trustee, vice-chair of WSNA-PAC, and a member of the King County Nurses Association nominating committee. She is a dialysis nurse at DaVita and an adjunct nursing clinical instructor at Highline college. Phoebe is working on her doctoral degree in Family Nurse Practitioner at Johns Hopkins University. As a minority nurse and the first generation in college, she hopes to mentor and support other minority nurses to find their voice and achieve their full potential.
November 17, 2022