Campus & Community

Simmons School of Nursing Advocates for the Nursing Profession in the Nation’s Capital

The Cupola

“It was interesting working together toward this goal, advocating for the profession in a way that will impact nurses, nursing students, and patients.”

This month, Dean Heather Shlosser represented the Simmons School of Nursing at the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) Dean’s Annual Meeting in D.C., while Amanda Whitbeck, a student in the Simmons Direct Entry Program, attended the concurrent Student Policy Summit.

“It’s all sponsored by the AACN,” says Shlosser, who noted that over 800 schools of nursing were represented at the meeting. “The last day of the conference is Capitol Hill Day, when students and deans meet with senators for their state and representatives for their district.”

The Student Policy Summit had 205 students from 36 states and D.C., representing 90 different schools of nursing. There, students were taught how to advocate, what questions to ask, and how to prepare to meet with legislators.

“I was able to learn from nurses and other [healthcare professionals], learning how their work for patients translates to the political space,” says Whitbeck. “We learned how a Bill works, the ways a Bill typically becomes a law. [The experience taught me] to see the versatility of nursing. We focus on nursing as a clinical practice, but it’s multifaceted.”

After their separate meetings, Shlosser and Whitbeck attended Capitol Hill Day, organized by the AACN, where they advocated for crucial funding and support with several congressional offices. The offices of Representative Ayanna Pressley, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Ed Markey, and Representative Seth Moulton were present at the meeting.

“It was a great opportunity to take everything we learned about the specific Bills and speak to the representatives,” says Whitbeck. “It was nerve-wracking, but also interesting hearing other people share their experiences. There is often a disconnect between deans and students, and this gave me insight into the difficulties that deans face. It was interesting working together toward this goal, advocating for the profession in a way that will impact nurses, nursing students, and patients.”

With AACN's guidance, Shlosser and Whitbeck urged for $530 million for Title VIII Nursing Workforce Development Programs in fiscal year 2025. “[The funds are] to bolster opportunities within the profession, support our nursing students, and help increase the number of nurses prepared to serve in a variety of capacities, including in rural, urban, and underserved communities,” says Shlosser.

Shlosser and Whitbeck also advocated for $350 million for the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR) to support nurse scientists in their work to generate and lead translational research that addresses strategic imperatives, such as health equity and social determinants of health. And they called for support for the Future Advancement of Academic Nursing (FAAN) Act (S.3770/H.R.7266), a vital legislation investing $1 billion into accredited schools of nursing, thus enabling these institutions to meet future workforce demands, with special consideration given to supporting minority-serving institutions and schools located in medically underserved, rural, or health professional shortage areas.

“That includes faculty loan forgiveness, scholarships, and development,” explains Shlosser. “The national nursing shortage is going to intensify as baby boomers age and the need for health care grows.” In addition, there is a shortage of qualified nursing faculty. “It’s a vicious cycle. Nurses in academia make less money than in clinical practice. We need nurses everywhere, and the competition makes it hard for [institutions] to recruit faculty.”

One way to entice nurses to join academia is to offer loan forgiveness. However, some of these forgiveness programs are structured with an amount that the employer must “match” in order for the employee to receive the benefit. This creates a financial burden that institutions with financial constraints cannot always manage. “We lobbied for the removal of the match requirement, to allow smaller institutions an equal opportunity to recruit faculty,” says Shlosser.

More faculty are needed in order to allow nursing programs to grow, graduate more students, and replace the nurses leaving the field — particularly the boomer generation, who are nearing retirement. “We need everyone to understand the concerns around the nursing shortage. We’re not coming close to meeting the need,” says Shlosser, who cites the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employment Projections 2021-2031. The Bureau estimates that the Registered Nursing (RN) workforce is expected to grow by 6% over the next decade. While 195,400 nurses are expected to join the RN workforce in that time, the Bureau projects 203,200 openings for RNs in the U.S. each year, due to nurse retirements and other workforce exits.

“Nurses are excellent advocates for their patients, but not always great advocates for themselves,” notes Whitbeck. “I need to be an advocate. And I need to learn from nurses who have been in the profession for a long time.”

In particular, the focus on health inequities and disparities stood out to Whitbeck, making her reflect on her experiences on Capitol Hill, and as an oncology nurse at Dana Farber and Brigham & Women’s Hospital. “Working in Boston, I see disparities not just [in treatment] but in research,” says Whitbeck. “There is a lack of knowledge, a lack of access, and a lack of trust in the medical system among historically marginalized communities, understandably so. As a White woman who recognizes my privilege, I need to provide space for other voices, other experiences, and knowledge that I don’t have. Making a space for practitioners of color is really important to me. That is a part of my advocacy.”

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Alisa M. Libby