The University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing students and officers of the UT Austin Nursing Students’ Association Huy Le, Alexis Maceda, Chardelene Reyes, and Kaliah Sherrod, along with Jennifer Flippo, DNP, APRN, CPNP-PC, PMHS, clinical assistant professor, attended the National Student Nurses’ Association (NSNA) Annual Convention in April 2023 in Nashville. The UTNSA is a chapter of the NSNSA, but this was the first time the School of Nursing was represented at a national level after a three-year absence due to COVID-19.
The NSNA’s Annual Convention brings together student nurses from across the country to learn about current issues in nursing education and the nursing profession, to network with other passionate individuals who are engaged in innovative research and initiatives, and to vote on evidence-informed resolutions written by students to address gaps within nursing. This year’s theme was “Reflection: A Catalyst for Change.”
All UTNSA members had the opportunity to work on a resolution to be voted on at the convention. In January, the UT Austin group submitted a resolution calling for harm reduction education to be integrated into nursing curricula, along with a sample implementation plan, a budget sheet, and research sources. School of Nursing student and UTNSA member Olivia Schneider was also a co-author of the resolution but could not attend the convention.
“It was incredibly impactful and undoubtedly one of the best experiences we could have been part of as nursing students,” Huy Le said. Although the UT students felt a bit nervous about presenting before a large audience of nursing students and other nursing professionals, they were excited that their issue was considered important to discuss.
The group prepared a two-minute “elevator pitch” for their resolution, which addressed three important issues:
- the national overdose crisis;
- substance use heavily stigmatized and also criminalized; and
- research showing that nursing students are unprepared to have conversations with patients about substance use, given a lack of educational emphasis on harm reduction.
The UT group called for principles of harm reduction to be included in nursing curricula and for the NSNA to provide nursing students across the country with knowledge about harm reduction and resources related to advocacy, as well as examples of harm reduction practice.
“We wanted to focus the conversation on safety, empathy, empowerment and ‘meeting people where they are at without leaving them there,’” Le said. He described the moment when the NSNA unanimously passed the resolution as one of relief and hope, confirming that health equity for individuals who use substances could be advanced by equipping nursing students with the knowledge, skills, and empathy offered by a harm reduction framework.
At the convention, the students connected with other nursing students and professionals who inspired them and introduced them to new perspectives and research. They spoke on a variety of issues regarding mental health, diabetes, first aid, hospital-related complications, support for unhoused individuals, causes of health disparities, and nursing leadership, and they criticized misinformation and low-quality research evidence.
“We felt reaffirmed,” Le said, by “the immense capacity of nurses to create change within hospitals and out in the community ... to tackle complex societal issues.” The students were able to discuss research and writing, public speaking, collaboration, and advocacy, all of which are important in nursing education and the nursing profession.
Nurses and nursing students have a great capacity to promote change and exert influence when they work together and with other professionals. As Le said, nursing reaches beyond bedside practice, and for him, participating in the conference showed how this was so. He met with nursing students working on policy and rewriting laws, raising awareness through education, collaborating with business leaders to deliver innovative health care products, leveraging technology to scale, addressing inequities, and running for office. Le found it “truly inspirational” to see the nursing profession addressing societal change, and other nursing students passionate about it.
For Chardelene Reyes, the experience of meeting people from across the country contrasted with the School of Nursing’s intimacy. “I heard so many outlooks on nursing and they were both inspiring and eye-opening,” Reyes said. “I would talk to someone from Iowa about combating health disparities, then turn around and speak to someone from Pennsylvania about mental health awareness.” Meeting “like-minded individuals who shared such a profound commitment toward patient advocacy was encouraging to say the least.”
“In the midst of the all too familiar stress, doubts, and academics, opportunities like these are a kind reminder of the breadth of nursing as a profession and the bright future ahead,” she concluded.