By Jonathan Schroeder
First-semester nursing student Rachel Hawkins looked out at the sea of nursing students in front of her, and sighed with exhaustion. Within 24 hours, there had been a long red-eye flight across two time zones, a hotel check-in and then a full day of networking, keynote speakers, and complex nursing acronyms. The evening brought a much needed rest; but also a newly awakened perspective.
“I had never really realized before just how many different things you could do with nursing,” Hawkins explains. “There are so many different aspects you can focus on – business, travel; the possibilities are endless!”
Hawkins was one of several students who represented the BYU Student Nursing Association at the 2018 National Student Nursing Association (NSNA) Conference in Nashville, TN.
“It really helped open my view of the level of impact that nurses can have,” fellow first-semester student Izzy Bernal adds. “I realized that my sphere of influence doesn’t have to be just as a bedside nurse, but I can really do a lot of different things.”
For associate teaching professor Sondra Heaston, this kind of reaction has almost become commonplace. Heaston has been the BYU SNA Chapter advisor for more than a decade and has enjoyed helping students prepare for the annual conference since 2007.
“The conference is a bit of a wake-up call for a lot of students,” Heaston explains. “Many students get into the nursing program and then they get so focused on school that they don’t realize just how much there is outside of the classroom. The conference gives them a chance to see just how many opportunities they have for their future career, for leadership and for education — all in this one week-long event.”
More than 3,000 nursing students from across the country participated in this year’s conference. Conference events included TED Talk-style keynote speakers, information sessions about different nursing emphases, SNA officer trainings, and an exhibition hall with recruiters from top hospitals and graduate programs across the country.
“It’s almost like an LDS Women’s Conference for nurses,” sixth-semester student Aimee Schouten explains. “It’s a really neat chance to be with other nursing students and professionals from around the US and feel united, as a profession.”
“The goal of SNA [and the NSNA conference] is to help students have the best opportunity to become the best nurses possible,” adds Jessica Small. “It’s really cool to have that shared purpose with other people.”
BYU Nursing: Learning Through Leadership
The NSNA Conference not only helps develop great nurses, but it also helps develop great leaders. As part of the conference, students have the chance to participate in the NSNA House of Delegates. This allows students to put forth resolutions based on current issues and research. These resolutions can vary from establishing healthcare polices to increasing awareness for certain issues.
“This is how policy changes happen in the real world,” Heaston explains. “Nurses come together and raise their voices within their professional organization and discuss issues that they feel need to be addressed.”
This year, Schouten and Small provided one of the highlights of the NSNA Conference when they presented their resolution to raise awareness of sexual assault on college campuses.
Schouten and Small were inspired to present their resolution after discovering that the topic of sexual assault on college campuses had not been addressed in any NSNA resolution over the past five years.
“I was honestly shocked,” Small remembers. “Sexual assault on college campuses is a big problem. Yet all we found in our research were a few resolutions that made reference to sexual assault; there wasn’t anything that actually addressed the problem.”
Inspired by the work of BYU Nursing Assistant Professor Julie Valentine, Schouten and Small drafted a resolution that they hope will increase awareness for the issue of sexual assault in addition to creating an environment that will help nurses provide better care for potential victims.
“The goal of our resolution is to present the prevalence, side effects and barriers that sexual assault victims face in getting the help they need,” Small explains.
Small and Schouten’s resolution contains a number of eye-opening statistics from a variety of sources. They found that not only have one in five women experienced sexual assault while in college, but that less than half of those assaulted actually seek the healthcare they need afterwards.
“The problem is there is such a stigmatization of rape and victim blaming,” Schouten says. “One of the biggest reasons that people don’t report sexual assault is that they feel that reporting it will change how people see them. It makes them feel worthless and debased.”
“As nurses, it’s our job to help these people get the physical and mental healthcare they need; not only in the workplace, but also in our daily lives,” Small adds. “There’s a lot that we can do to help these victims. Whether we’re acting as roommates, as friends, or as future healthcare professionals — we need to take a stand to combat the issue of sexual assault on college campuses.”
The NSNA House of Delegates unanimously accepted Schouten and Small’s resolution, which calls for their research to be published for NSNA students, as well as at the American Nursing Association (ANA). Not only was the resolution unanimously accepted, but many delegates shared testimonials about how sexual assault had impacted the life of a friend or loved one.
“It felt good to see how many people our resolution could impact just in that room,” Small shares. “We could really tell we were doing a good thing.”
And while Small and Schouten were representing BYU on the floor of the House of Delegates, their classmate, Ashley Dyer was campaigning for a spot on the NSNA Board. Dyer successfully campaigned for and was elected to be the Chair and Western Representative of the NSNA Nominating and Elections Committee (NEC) for 2018-2019.
“I am very humbled by the outpouring of support from so many nursing students in our nation who, a week ago, had never even heard of me,” Dyer says. “I want to do all I can to help them find the courage and means to easily participate in national leadership opportunities this year.”
Fortunately, Dyer won’t have to travel very far to fulfill her NSNA NEC duties next year. The 2019 NSNA Conference is scheduled for April 3-7, 2019, in Salt Lake City.
“The NSNA conference is a great opportunity for all nursing students; not just SNA board members,” Heaston says. “We hope that all nursing students take advantage of this amazing opportunity to expand their nursing horizons.”