Why Finding a Nursing Community Is Important

Why Finding a Nursing Community Is Important

Busy nurses dont always seek out professional organizations or groups dedicated to nursing, and for valid reasons. They need more time or energy to devote to a group, the meetings are inconvenient, or they see it as an extension of work. However, joining a nursing community is one of the most powerful personal and career moves a nurse can make.why-finding-a-nursing-community-is-important

“The importance of community is relevant to nurses at all levels of their careers,” says Gloria E. Barrera, MSN, RN, PEL-CSN, a public health nurse who practices as a school nurse at a high school outside of Chicago. “The sense of community is a unifying force that fosters professional growth and enhances the overall impact of nursing practice.” 

For nurses identifying with a particular group, such as a minority nurse or a nursing specialty, being part of a community of nurses is validating. “The best advice that I was given was to join a professional nursing organization and then to join my specialty nursing organization,” says Barrera, who holds longtime membership in the American Nurses Association (where she is now the Executive Member of the Board) and the National Association of School Nurses.

Having a community that shares your experience, whether personal or professional, is vital to a sense of belonging in a group. “As a Latina nurse, it was important for me to join a professional organization that authentically represents the diversity of my community,” says Barrera. “We can’t be what we can’t see! Once we see others who look like us succeeding in their respective roles, it gives us a blueprint to continue on our journeys.”

Joining a group is excellent, but what happens if nothing fits what you’re looking for? For Danielle McCamey, DNP, CRNP, ACNP-BC, FCCP, starting a group was the answer. McCamey, founder, president, and CEO of DNPs of Color, started the organization several years ago. “I was trying to find that community when I was going through my doctoral program,” she says. Finding nothing that could offer support with a similar lived experience that McCamey had, she decided to create it. 

There is a shared language and a shared understanding that’s essential when you gather with other nurses. “A community helps offer you that validation you need,” says McCamey. “There is always someone who can say, ‘Here are some strategies to help you navigate that.’”

Joining a community offers opportunities and benefits that aren’t always obvious.” When looking at nurses from underprivileged backgrounds, the connections within a nursing community, especially through local chapters of professional organizations, can be most impactful,” says Barrera. “It gives these nurses access to financial resources, for example, scholarships, mentorship programs, and networking opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise be afforded them.”

And a nursing community where you feel a good fit is different. “We must develop a sense of belonging and support,” says Olga F. Jarrín, PhD, RN, FAAN, Hunterdon Professor of Nursing Research and Associate Professor, Division of Nursing Science at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey and Adjunct Assistant Professor, the University of Pennsylvania, School of Nursing. Jarrin co-founded the Latino Nurses Network with Paule Joseph, PhD, EMBA, MS, FNP-BC, FAAN, a decade ago because they sought other nurses who wanted to support and advocate for each other. “Nurses are dealing with high-stress situations that are emotionally demanding. It’s terrific to connect with other nurses and celebrate everyone’s success.”

Barrera agrees. “Community is important for several reasons,” she says. “Having professional support in the form of a networking community is critical to exchanging knowledge, best practices, and resource sharing.”

Nurses also say the support they find in a community of nurses extends both ways. McCamey notices that even as more senior nurses help lead, they also need guidance as they move through leadership roles and situations. An organization that supports all levels of nurses will have members who share their experiences, both good and bad, to help other nurses take steps that produce results or avoid any potential pitfalls.

Nurses interested in personal and professional connections will find that most groups offer both organically. “Communities provide nurses with opportunities for ongoing education and professional development, for example, workshops and seminars,” says Barrera.

Nurses can also have more impact as a group. For advocacy purposes, a larger group of nurses can accomplish more, and that satisfaction is motivating. A network or group that is workplace-based can work for change in policies and processes for your immediate needs, just as a group that isn’t isolated to one location or workplace can take on broader issues in the industry.

If you can’t find the community that best supports your goals and needs, you can start one. “Nurses are the epitome of innovators and creators,” says McCamey. “We identify gaps and create solutions.” If a nurse feels there is a community lacking in a certain space, there are likely others who feel the same.

“As you build that community, people will come,” says McCamey. “The key to success is networking.” That doesn’t mean showing up at social events and conferences, although those are tried-and-true networking methods. McCamey says the pandemic removed barriers and that lets nurses form connections more easily. “You can reach out to people and ask for a conversation, and it’s socially acceptable,” she says. Before the pandemic, the rules around outreach were more rigid, but now nurses have new opportunities. Use texting, group chat, social media groups, or even academic institutions to help make the desired connections.

McCamey feels the need for connection deeply, saying that if a community like DNPs of Color can help make one nurse’s journey easier, that’s essential. “Life is better in a community,” she says. “It is always inspiring to see people get nursing fires relit.”

Finding the right nursing community can make a difference between staying in the field and leaving it for nurses who feel especially burned out or isolated. “It reduces feelings of isolation,” says Jarrin. “It feels good to share accomplishments and successes. Sometimes, it’s hard to draw attention to your achievements, but in a supportive community, it’s viewed as celebrating success. There’s a sense of, ‘We’re doing this together.’”

VITAS Honors National Black Nurses Association for Black History Month

VITAS Honors National Black Nurses Association for Black History Month

VITAS Honors National Black Nurses Association for Black History Month

What better way for a national health care organization to commemorate Black History Month than by honoring the historical contributions of African American nurses?

For Black History Month 2009, VITAS Innovative Hospice Care, the nation’s largest provider of end-of-life care services, has issued a commemorative poster honoring the National Black Nurses Association (NBNA), which since 1971 has served as a collective, powerful voice representing black RNs, LPNs, nursing students and retired nurses in the U.S., the Eastern Caribbean and Africa.

The attractive three-color poster, featuring both historic and contemporary images of African American nurses—including current NBNA president Debra A. Toney, PhD, RN—showcases the association’s nearly 40-year history of leadership in the nursing profession. The poster also highlights the NBNA’s current programs and accomplishments, such as the annual National Black Nurses Day on Capitol Hill. Held each February, this event gives NBNA members the opportunity to meet with legislators in Washington, D.C. to discuss important issues such as the nursing shortage, nursing education and eliminating minority health disparities.

In recent years, the NBNA has been partnering with Miami-based VITAS to help increase black nurses’ knowledge and skills in the area of end-of-life care. For example, both the 2007 and 2008 NBNA annual national conferences included a full-day End-of-Life Nursing Education Consortium (ELNEC) certification course sponsored by VITAS.

For more information about the National Black Nurses Association, visit www.NBNA.org. Information about VITAS Innovative Hospice Care is available at


VITAS Honors National Black Nurses Association for Black History Month

NBNA 40th Anniversary Celebration

1971. The United States is still embroiled in the Vietnam War, and The New York Times fuels the fire by publishing the Pentagon Papers. National Public Radio transmits its first broadcast, Walt Disney World Resort opens in Florida, NASDAQ debuts on Wall Street, and a specialized nursing organization, the National Black Nurses Association, is born.

This is the NBNA through the eyes of those who know it best—the nurses who were there from the beginning and the nurses who are carrying the organization into the future. 

A history lesson

Dr. Lauranne Sams saw a deficiency. She was already a minority as a black woman, then part of an even smaller minority as a black nurse, and she had no way of connecting with other black nurses for support or career development. Black nurses needed a collective voice and a venue for collaboration, not just for professional advancement, but to represent the health care needs of all African Americans. 

Sams started by sharing her ideas with seven other black nurses at the 1969 National League for Nursing convention. At the American Nurses Association conference of 1970, she met with more than 150 additional nurses. By 1971, the group voted the National Black Nurses Association into existence. 

It was 40 years ago—half a lifetime—that Sams, a former Dean and Professor of Nursing at the Tuskegee University School of Nursing in Alabama, founded the National Black Nurses Association. It stands as a resource for black nurses everywhere, giving them a place to share best practices, discuss pressing issues, and foster unity through a set of common goals. Today, the NBNA represents 150,000 African American nurses, with 80 chapters in 34 states.

The NBNA in 2011

“NBNA advocates for the well-being of underserved populations,” says Debra A. Toney, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N., current President of the NBNA and an administrator at TLC Health Care Services in Las Vegas, Nevada. “It provides a voice and vehicle for black nurses to advocate for change that is needed in our communities.”

Nurses are generally regarded as the most accessible and trusted members of the health care team. They also often serve as community liaisons, representing their patients’ interests in health care research and policymaking. The NBNA’s programs reflect both the clinical and political facets of nursing.

Members affect government policy; provide public health education and training; help ensure patient access to affordable, quality health care; and strive to eliminate health disparities. “By being a member I developed a keen sense of accountability to improve the conditions in communities of color,” Toney says.

The NBNA is responsible for National Black Nurses Day on Capitol Hill, and has been for over 20 years. Hundreds of nurses gather to promote awareness to legislators, particularly regarding health care disparities and overarching problems affecting nursing as a whole.

In its more recent past, the NBNA joined the Asian American/Pacific Islander Nurses Association, the National Alaska Native American Indian Nurses Association, the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, and the Philippine Nurses Association of America to form the National Coalition of Ethnic Minority Nurse Associations. Together they represent 350,000 nurses.

The NBNA also advocates for African Americans by serving on the advisory committees for a slew of federal agencies, including the Office of Minority Health, the National Institutes of Health Office of Research on Women’s Health, and the National African American Drug Policy Coalition.

Other NBNA programs include the National Obesity Initiative, which challenged NBNA members to lose weight and exercise more in addition to hosting educational sessions, as well as the NBNA Women’s Health Research Program. The NBNA also publishes the peer-refereed Journal of the National Black Nurses Association and the National Black Nurses Association Newsletter.

“Your voice has a chance to be heard, at the local, state, and national level,” says Lola Denise Jefferson, R.N.C., B.S.N., C.V.R.N., a Nursing Supervisor at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital in Houston, Texas. “Also, there is more of a chance to serve as officers on the national level. NBNA has a newsletter and journal where you can have your articles published. There are various opportunities to present a lecture and/or a poster presentation at the annual national conference.”

A number of organizations, including the U.S. Office of Minority Health, have awarded the NBNA grants to further its mission. The NBNA, in turn, supports the goals of other individuals and organizations by awarding grants and scholarships.

Yet, some may point to improved race relations, even to the inauguration of the first black U.S. president, and wonder why an organization like the NBNA is still necessary. “Contrary to the notion of a post-racial society, we are not there yet,” says Patricia McManus, Ph.D., R.N., G.C.N.P.M., President/CEO of the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin, Inc. In the context of nursing, health and patient economic disparities persist, even run rampant in some areas.

“The NBNA is a vehicle to address disparities in health care by advocating for culturally competent care and for increasing in the number of black nurses providing that care,” McManus says. “NBNA also provides the emotional support to black nurses that is so critical for the growth and survival of black nurses in the educational settings and the workplace.”

“Business as usual no longer works,” Toney says, citing a need for higher health care standards. The NBNA hopes to serve as a change agent and resource in that effort. “I envision NBNA as an organization that accepts excellence in health care as minimum criteria in all that we do.”

Strength in numbers

Audwin B. Fletcher, Ph.D., A.P.R.N., F.N.P.-B.C., remembers watching nurses attentively care for his sick grandmother when he was just another college student studying biology. “Instantly, I knew this was I had to do,” he says. Now a professor and the Director of Multicultural Affairs at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Fletcher is committed to caring for the underserved and underinsured, promoting optimal health in the African American community.

“NBNA is as strong or as weak as the sum total of its parts,” Fletcher says, and his NBNA colleagues echo his sentiment. “The degree to which we are willing to be guided by our historical development; the amount of time we are willing to put in; the enthusiasm we wish to show; the problems we are willing to personally tackle; and the proposals we are willing to generate will all collectively shape the course that the organization will inevitably take.” The NBNA, Fletcher says, must set an example. 

“The mission of the organization sums it up,” Fletcher says. “To provide a forum for collective action by black nurses to investigate, define, and advocate for the health care needs of African Americans and to implement strategies that ensure access to health care, equal to, or above health care standards of the larger society. Needless to say, the struggle—the plight of the African American nurse—continues.”

The annual NBNA conference

Professional conferences and annual meetings may conjure images of long lectures in stuffy hotel ballrooms and weekends spent in not-so-exotic locales. But they’re part of the job, right? For many members, the NBNA’s annual conference held a much deeper significance.

Catherine Roscoe-Herbert, D.N.P., R.N., G.N.P.-B.C., C.N.S.Catherine Roscoe-Herbert, D.N.P., R.N., G.N.P.-B.C., C.N.S.

“In 1984 I was a student and heard that the National Black Nurses Conference was convening in New Orleans, Louisiana. While attending the conference and seminars, I was overwhelmed with the intelligence and educational preparation of so many African American nurses who held high positions across the nation,” says Eric J. Williams, D.N.P., M.S.N., B.S.N., R.N., a nursing professor at Santa Monica Community College in California. “‘Overwhelmed’ would describe my behavior at that time, mainly because I had no African American nurses to serve as role models or mentors while enrolled in my B.S.N. program at William Carey University. The conference was an exciting time for me. This was a mechanism to develop relationships and make friends with local members of NBNA and others from different regions.”

The NBNA has evolved from its first conference, held in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1973, the theme of which was Emerging Roles for Black Nurses: Responsibility, Accountability, and Militancy. Today, the annual conference brings over 1,000 nurses together for clinical lectures, product exhibits, and award and scholarship presentations.

President Toney first encountered the NBNA at its 1995 national conference. “Being in the presence of so many black nurses from all over the U.S. at one time was powerful to me,” Toney says. “After speaking with the national president for a moment it became apparent to me that I must become involved.” Motivated by the significant health disparities she saw in populations of color, Toney founded the NBNA’s Nevada chapter and worked her way through the ranks to NBNA President in YEAR. “I wanted to help people improve their quality of their lives,” she says. “That was 15 years ago. NBNA gave me the opportunity to meet some wonderful people along the way.”

“I went to my first NBNA conference in 1980. I was in awe,” McManus says. The nurses in attendance showed her that leadership opportunities existed outside of her current clinical role—and that black nurses held those positions. “We did not have black nurses running schools of nursing or nursing departments in Milwaukee. . . . I knew that if I wanted to make a difference in my community, I had to be in a leadership position.” Since that first meeting, McManus has missed only one NBNA conference. “It is an annual renewal of my spirit,” she says.

Mentored toward success

“Each one, reach one; each one, teach one.” Patricia C. Lane, R.N., B.S.N., M.B.A., heard this mantra from her parents as a child growing up in Virginia. They instilled in her a belief that caring for others isn’t just an ideal, but a necessity. Her childhood fascination with microbiology, paired with the nurturing instinct, became a passion for neuroscience nursing. Now the Neuroscience Coordinator for the Bon Secours Richmond Health System in Virginia, Lane was yet another NBNA scholarship recipient, and the money funded her education at George Mason University.

Eric J. Williams, D.N.P., M.S.N., B.S.N., R.N.Eric J. Williams, D.N.P., M.S.N., B.S.N., R.N.

Lane credits the NBNA for giving her the opportunity to work with some of the biggest movers and shakers in health care, including Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, Senator Harry Reid, and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health Garth Graham. “The mentorship, support, and resources I have received as being part of this organization is truly amazing,” she says. “I truly believe being part of NBNA was in my blood.

“The National Black Nurses is the only organization for black nurses that fosters caring specifically for the African American community,” Lane says. “Nurses are able to embrace, nurture, and educate.” Such a focus is crucial, she says, to drive a foundational shift toward culturally competent and preventive care. Lane predicts the NBNA will become a future research and policy leader.

“I do not think I would have matriculated from a staff nurse to supervisor or instructor of nursing to professor of nursing if it had not been for NBNA,” Williams says. “The high level of mentorship and role models in the organization assisted me to develop as a professional nurse. The leadership institutes and symposiums held each year by well-credentialed and qualified leaders often helps in developing minorities in the pipeline.”   

To Williams, there’s no question about it: the NBNA is a leader in health care, influencing changes that affect millions of people. “We have the best of the best appointed to governmental committees to represent the needs of African Americans and other minorities,” Williams says. “We are at the table making powerful decisions regarding health care policy and the development of resolutions to identify our stance on certain health care issues.” Williams cites a number of reform initiatives, including the Quality Safety Education for Nurses (QSEN) and National Patient Safety Goals programs. “I am excited about our future,” he says. “We are a premier nursing organization!”

Looking to the future

One of NBNA’s newest members, Bereshith Adams, M.S.N., B.S.N., originally wanted to be a neurosurgeon. Raised in Harlem, New York City, Adams is one of nine brothers and sisters. He says his mother, a maternity nurse at Harlem Hospital, encouraged him to look at the UConn School of Nursing. He says he met “wonderful people there and saw all that nursing had to offer.”

Lola Denise Jefferson, R.N.C., B.S.N., C.V.R.N.Lola Denise Jefferson, R.N.C., B.S.N., C.V.R.N.

As a nurse, you can travel all over the world, help those who need it most, and influence politics and policy, Adams says. “When they told me all that, I thought, ‘This is where I need to be.’” He graduated from the University of Connecticut’s School of Nursing on May 7 of this year.

Adams’ manager at Hartford Hospital, an NBNA member, suggested he join the organization, which he did. “It was a very uplifting experience to see that there were many black nurses,” he says. They were highly educated, pursuing graduate degrees, and entrepreneurial, Adams says. “That really showed me that if they can do it, I can do it.” Adams also received scholarships from the national and Connecticut NBNA chapters. “They also helped me pursue my graduate education,” he says.

Like many young professionals, Adams had moments of doubt surrounding his career choice. Then he attended the 2010 national NBNA conference in San Diego. Adams says he heard so many stories of struggles and triumph, of overcoming adversity. “It gave me not only hope, but it gave me determination. . . . I still keep in contact with some of those people,” he says. “They’re just a dial away.”

The NBNA welcome new nurses, Adams says. Veteran members understand the importance of the next generation and are dedicated to training them. “They’re not afraid of you taking their positions—they want you to!”

Adams hopes to see a flood of new young, enthusiastic nurses join the NBNA. He says he wants to see more black RNs become politically involved too. “We’re only as strong as our numbers,” he says. “It’s important that we get people’s voices heard.”

So what lies ahead for the NBNA? Its members hope to see a number of advancements. Catherine Roscoe-Herbert, D.N.P., R.N., G.N.P.-B.C., C.N.S., is looking forward to a sustainable future with increased membership, ideally fostered by “a stronger position in recruiting minority nurses from high school.” Roscoe-Herbert has been with the NBNA for 24 of her 31 years in nursing. She currently serves various administrative roles in the University Hospitals Case Medical Center for Geriatric Medicine, as well as an adjunct clinical faculty member at the Bolton School of Nursing at Case Western Reserve University, both in Ohio. “Each nurse must develop an identity, poise, professionalism. Each nurse needs encouragement and support. Each nurse needs mentorship and to later become a mentor,” Roscoe-Herbert says. “There is so much to achieve.”

Audwin B. Fletcher, Ph.D., A.P.R.N., F.N.P.-B.C.Audwin B. Fletcher, Ph.D., A.P.R.N., F.N.P.-B.C.

“This is an exciting time to be a black nurse,” Lane says. “Utilize the numerous opportunities to continue education and to network  . . . only NBNA can provide.”

“The networking and scholarly mentors available will assist you in the development of skills and knowledge integral to upward mobility in the profession of nursing,” Williams says. “The lifelong lessons you will discover will pave the way for your future endeavors.”

“Continue to get more education,” McManus says, and never turn down an opportunity to learn. Her advice for the next generation of black nurses? “Most importantly, they must not forget those who came before them and those they must help who are coming behind them.”

“I actually think my path would have been a lot different than it is now [without the NBNA],” Toney says. “I have met nurses who have served as mentors, role models, and friends to me. The organization gave me a sense of worth and the desire to be an advocate for nurses and the community. It taught me that the greatest gift is to give back to mankind to end human suffering.

“Everyone will need a nurse at some point in their life,” Toney says. “As society continues to become more diverse, there is an increasing demand for black nurses.” She goes on, addressing potential NBNA recruits with the assurance of a U.S. Army campaign. “Align yourself with the leaders of NBNA. Stay the course. Be the best in all that you do,” she says. “And join the NBNA today.”

For information regarding joining the NBNA or starting your own chapter, visit www.nbna.org, call 800-575-6298, or e-mail [email protected].

VITAS Honors National Black Nurses Association for Black History Month

A New Voice in Nursing

Since becoming a nurse in 1991, Rose Khalifa, RN, has devoted her career to reaching out to culturally diverse communities, including the large Arab American population in southeast Michigan. She is a respected authority on transcultural nursing and has been honored for developing such innovations as the nation’s first Arabic-language prenatal care program.

But when colleagues approached Khalifa, a native of Lebanon, for information about Arab American nurses, she came up short. There simply was no organization that collected data on this particular group of minority nurses or served as a central network for Arab American nurses across the United States.

AANA President Rose Khalifa, RNAANA President Rose Khalifa, RN

Finally, one day three years ago, Khalifa became fed up. She and four other Arab American nurses were at a photo shoot for an article about nursing for an Arab American magazine. When the reporter asked them basic demographic questions–How many Arab American nurses are there? In what parts of the country do they work?, etc.–none of the nurses could answer.

“It was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Khalifa recalls. “Even within our own communities we didn’t have the answers to questions posed to us from the community-at-large. We needed to have a central hub where we could collect data.”

Khalifa and her colleagues realized it was time to start a national organization that would bring the Arab American nurse population together and serve as a centralized source for information, resources and networking. They immediately went online to register the group’s name for incorporation.

Today the American Arab Nurses Association (AANA) serves not only as a voice for nurses of Arab descent but also as a force to address the national nursing shortage and promote awareness of cultural diversity in post-9/11 America. “We want to play a role in building cultural bridges in the profession,” says Khalifa, the association’s president.

Khalifa, a transcultural nurse consultant for Oakwood Healthcare System in Dearborn, Mich., reached out to colleagues at universities and a variety of health care organizations to launch the association. During its first year after incorporating, the nonprofit group focused on recruiting leaders, attaining tax-exempt status, defining goals and seeking early funding commitments.

Although still in its infancy, the association has already gained international attention, launched an annual scholarship program and held its first professional development conference. And more expansion is on tap for 2006 as the AANA plans its first national convention.

Filling Information Gaps

Based in Dearborn, the AANA’s initial activities are focused mainly on the southeast Michigan region. According to the Arab American Institute, Michigan is home to an estimated 490,000 Arab Americans–the highest concentration of this ethnic population in any U.S. state. As the AANA grows, says Khalifa, it wants to establish volunteer chapters in other areas of the country.

At the American Arab Nurses Association's first professional development conference last May. AANA leaders and conference speakers--including transcultural nursing pioneer Dr. Madeleine Leininger (front row, fourth from left--pose for the camera.At the American Arab Nurses Association’s first professional development conference last May. AANA leaders and conference speakers–including transcultural nursing pioneer Dr. Madeleine Leininger (front row, fourth from left–pose for the camera.

The Arab American Institute estimates that at least 3.5 million Americans are of Arab descent. Several waves of immigrants from more than 20 Arabic-speaking countries have settled in the United States since the 1880s. More than 80% of these immigrants are U.S. citizens. Arab Americans live in all 50 states, but the majority are concentrated in just 10 states and one-third live in either Michigan, California or New York.

The AANA has already made progress in gathering information. In its second year, the group conducted a survey of 50 Arab American nurses in Michigan. The nurses were asked about their work environments, focusing particularly on whether they encountered any ethnic bias in their jobs and whether the atmosphere of their workplaces had changed since September 11.

The survey found no alarming evidence of widespread discrimination, Khalifa reports. Any instances of bias appeared to be isolated and the nurses reported little change in their work environments in the aftermath of 9/11. In fact, many respondents had high praise for their places of employment.

“We were pleased that our concerns were put to rest,” Khalifa says. “The survey results show that these nurses must have built some strong relationships. It really spoke highly of the communities they work with.”

The association has also been working with state health officials to begin collecting data on the number of Arab American nurses working in Michigan. Starting this year, Michigan nurses can now identify themselves as Arab Americans on the paperwork they file with the state to renew their licenses. Previously the form asked nurses to identify their ethnicity by checking one of several categories, but the list did not include Arab/Middle Eastern.

Jeanette Klemczak, MSN, RN, chief nurse executive for the Michigan Department of Community Health, worked with AANA to make the change on the renewal forms, and she is a member of the association’s board. Nurses renew their licenses in Michigan every two years, so half of the state’s RNs will apply for renewal in 2006. That will allow state officials to get a good estimate of the percentage of Arab Americans in the nursing workforce by the end of this renewal cycle. Answering the ethnic heritage question on the renewal forms is voluntary and nurses who choose to answer remain anonymous. The state compiles the information to get total figures and does not keep racial or ethnic information on individuals, Klemczak says.

As chief nurse executive, a position created by Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Klemczak’s role is to address the need for nurses in Michigan in light of the national nursing shortage. An important part of that mission is developing recruitment and retention efforts to ensure that the nursing workforce matches the state’s diverse population. Collecting demographic information on nurses’ racial and ethnic backgrounds helps nursing leaders like Klemczak know where they need to focus their efforts. This year, for the first time ever, they will get a clearer idea of how well represented Arab Americans are in the state’s nursing ranks.

Klemczak says she has been impressed with the AANA’s leadership and was “delighted” to join the board. “The association brings to the table an ability to reach out to this community,” she adds. “It’s a new group, but the leaders are so energetic.”

Spreading Cultural Awareness

Recently, the AANA has been directing much of that energy toward working with other state nursing groups as part of the Coalition of Michigan Organizations of Nursing. The coalition develops positions on key health care issues and makes recommendations to the state. Thanks to AANA’s involvement, it also serves as a resource where universities and health care providers can get information about Arab American cultural traditions and how they affect this population’s health care needs.

For instance, many Arab American women prefer to see only female doctors and nurses for treatment. Awareness of this cultural preference is important because some of these women would rather get no treatment at all than be treated by a male practitioner.

Understanding this culture’s religious beliefs and practices is critical, too, particularly when dealing with end-of-life issues. Health care providers need to understand the role of the extended family and the spiritual implications of such things as the withdrawal of life support, so that they can communicate with patients and families about these issues in a culturally sensitive way. “It’s not just the message that’s important. It’s the delivery and timing,” Khalifa explains.

The AANA also has a speakers bureau and can refer these experts to health care professionals who need information on best practices.

Another of the association’s top priority goals is addressing the national nursing shortage. The group wants to work with other ethnic minority nursing associations to recruit and retain culturally diverse nurses. As part of its efforts to encourage more people to become nursing students, AANA recently established an annual scholarship program, offering five $1,000 scholarships for 2005-2006. (See “Investing in the Future of Nursing.”) In keeping with the association’s vision of being an inclusive organization, all the scholarships except one are open to students of any ethnicity.

Allegiance Home Health Care, Inc., based in Sterling Heights, Mich., provided the seed money for the scholarship fund and was also one of the sponsors of the association’s 2005 conference. The company’s CEO, Marvin Al-Khafaji, is vice president of the AANA. “I wanted to be the first to provide scholarship money,” he says. “I wanted to make a statement.”

Al-Khafaji started his company three and a half years ago after previously working in the technology field. He is passionate about the AANA’s mission to recruit more ethnic minorities into nursing, including Arab Americans. Michigan is one of the most diverse melting pots in the country, and Al-Khafaji sees on a daily basis the business case for having a diverse nursing staff to provide culturally competent care. His firm has a multilingual staff proficient in 10 languages, including Arabic, Spanish, Polish, Russian, Urdu, Farsi and more.

“We want to be a company that represents the real world,” he says.

Building Bridges

The American Arab Nurses Association now has 120 members–a number that will rapidly increase if attendance at the group’s first conference last May is any indication. The event drew more than 400 people–one of the largest crowds ever for an inaugural conference.

Held in Livonia, Mich., the conference, titled “Building Cultural Bridges in Health Care,” explored issues such as the value of cultural competency in clinical practice, variances in cross-cultural communication, cultural diversity in the health care workplace and health care beliefs and practices in Arab American, African American and Hispanic cultures. It featured presentations from an impressive array of nursing and health care leaders, including keynote speaker Dr. Madeleine Leininger, the pioneer of transcultural nursing theory and practice and founder of the Transcultural Nursing Society. The conference also brought together prominent minority nursing leaders, such as Rudy Valenzuela, MSN, RN, FNP, president of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, and Jonnie Hamilton, MS, RN, CPNP, CNA, chair of the Michigan State Board of Nursing.

Although most of the attendees were from Michigan, 20 came from other states, demonstrating interest on a national level. The association is now planning a national convention to be held in 2007.

Meanwhile, the AANA is inspiring nursing professionals beyond the nation’s borders. Nurses in Jordan have expressed interest in starting a similar group there. And many nurses in the Middle East have contacted the American association, asking for information about working in the United States. “We are getting inquiries from across the globe,” Khalifa says.

Investing in the Future of Nursing

The American Arab Nurses Association’s annual AANA Scholarship program provides financial assistance to nursing students and practicing nurses at a variety of educational and career levels. The association offers five $1,000 scholarships per year, each one targeted to a specific category of student:
• A freshman student seeking a nursing degree;
• An RN seeking a bachelor’s degree in nursing;
• A minority freshman, sophomore, junior or senior student seeking a degree in nursing;
• An RN seeking a master’s degree in nursing; and
• A degreed freshman, sophomore, junior or senior student pursuing nursing as a second degree.
Students do not necessarily have to be Arab American to be eligible for these awards. For more information about the scholarship program, visit the association’s Web site, www.americanarabnurses.org.

On a Mission

The mission of the American Arab Nurses Association (AANA) is to:
• Encourage and support the recruitment of student nurses.
• Serve as a vehicle for the promotion of nurses generally and Arab American nurses specifically throughout the United States and abroad.
• Promote the image of American Arab nurses in the profession and to patients.
• Work to advance the knowledge and career status of nurses.
• Collaborate with health care and similar organizations to further these goals locally and nationally.
• Educate health care providers about cultural practices that impact the health care of the Arab American community.



VITAS Honors National Black Nurses Association for Black History Month

Diamond Jubilee

On October 16, 1932, at a time when African American nurses were either barred from membership in state and national nursing professional associations or had only limited opportunities to participate in these organizations, a visionary nursing leader named Aliene Carrington Ewell, BA, RN, with the assistance of 11 other founding members, established Chi Eta Phi Sorority, Inc., a national sorority for black professional nurses.

Today Chi Eta Phi is a professional association for registered professional nurses and student nurses–both male and female–representing many cultures and diverse ethnic backgrounds. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., it has over 8,000 members, with more than 90 graduate chapters (for nurses who are already RNs) and 50 undergraduate (student) chapters located across the United States and in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.

This October, Chi Eta Phi is celebrating its 75th anniversary. A two-day commemorative event will be held October 15-16 in Washington and will be highlighted by the unveiling of a wax figure in the likeness of Aliene Ewell. After the celebration, the figure will be installed in The National Great Blacks In Wax Museum in Baltimore, which is dedicated solely to the study and preservation of African American history.

Born in Norfolk, Va., Ewell graduated from Freedmen’s Hospital School of Nursing, Washington, D.C., in 1922. She continued to pursue higher education with great vigor, attending several prestigious institutes. She received a baccalaureate degree from the District of Columbia Teacher’s College and also studied at the Catholic University of America and at Columbia University in New York City.

Ewell began her career as a staff nurse for the Instructive Visiting Nurses Association and the District of Columbia Public Health Department. In 1957 she became the executive director of the Ionia R. Whipper Home, a maternity home for black unwed mothers, and worked there for 10 years until her retirement in 1967. She died on January 23, 1997.

These facts depict the professional life of an extraordinary woman who was a leader among minority nurses. Lillian Stokes, PhD, RN, FAAN, the current president of Chi Eta Phi, met Ewell several times in the late 1970s. “She was a dynamic leader, a lady, very elegant. Her [exuberant leadership radiated from her] and her presence made such a big difference,” says Stokes, who was elected to her second term as Supreme Basileus in July.

The 12 original sorors “were visionaries,” she continues. “They were leaders. They were professionals. They were committed to service. They saw a need for the organization because back in 1932 minority nurses could not belong to the majority organizations. They saw the need for an organization [that would provide opportunities for] African American nurses to come together and network, share their talents, develop leadership skills, provide service and connect with each other.”

“These women were looking for someplace where professional nurses of color could get together as a group to look at the issues that were affecting health and [how] nurses could deal with [those issues],” says Chi Eta Phi first vice president Mildred D. Fennal, PhD, RN, CCRN. “[The sorority] evolved from that.”

“Service for Humanity”

Membership in Chi Eta Phi is by invitation and is both active and honorary.

“If someone expresses interest in [joining] the sorority, what we try to do is make them understand that we are a professional service organization, not a social organization,” says Stokes, who has been a member of Chi Eta Phi for over four decades. “[That way,] if they decide to join they are not disappointed. We are about working and serving and those are the things that are stressed.

Shakyra Stanfield, BSN, RN, 3rd Supreme Anti-BasileusShakyra Stanfield, BSN, RN, 3rd Supreme Anti-Basileus

“Nurses want to be a part of an organization that is professional,” she adds. “They want to help make a difference in their communities. One of the other areas we [emphasize very strongly] is fellowship. It is a way of networking and interacting with other nurses who [share the same beliefs and goals]: to try to provide service to the community.”
Chi Eta Phi Sorority as it exists today has five stated purposes:

  • To encourage continuing education among members of the nursing profession.
  • To have a continuous recruitment program for nursing and the health professions.
  • To stimulate a close and friendly relationship among the members.
  • To develop working relationships with other professional groups for the improvement and delivery of health care services.
  • To constantly identify a corps of nursing leaders within the membership who will function as agents of social change on the national, regional and local level.

The sorority’s motto, “Service for Humanity,” is reflected in a wide range of programs focusing on health promotion and disease prevention, leadership development, mentoring, international development, recruitment and retention of minorities into nursing, and scholarships for nursing students. The organization also publishes the Journal of Chi Eta Phi Sorority (JOCEPS), a scholarly nursing journal published annually.

“The greatest strength [of the sorority] is the services provided to the community throughout the country and abroad,” Fennal says. “Our signature program is hypertension [awareness and prevention].”

Chi Eta Phi has partnered with the American Heart Association and the National Institutes of Health to offer hypertension screening programs that are specifically targeted to the needs of communities of color. Compared with other racial/ethnic groups, African Americans have the nation’s highest morbidity and mortality rates from heart disease, stroke and kidney failure. High blood pressure is a precursor to these conditions.

“Over the years, our major programs have evolved,” says Stokes, who is the director of the Indiana University School of Nursing (IUSON) Diversity and Enrichment Program. “I believe disease prevention and health promotion were probably the early ones, and we [continue to] do health screening and health education. We are working very hard to make an impact in the community and we try to capitalize on the talents in this organization to help increase individual and community awareness about health issues.

“One of the things we would like to do is facilitate a decrease in health disparities. I think we are probably doing that [already]. Hypertension is one of the major ones.” The sorority also has prevention programs that focus on cancer, glaucoma and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

In these areas, the health disparity gaps between the majority and minority populations are wide. “That is the reason we selected these programs,” says Stokes. “But we don’t discriminate. We will do programs for any [population], but our focus is underserved populations.”

Cultivating Leaders

Fennal, who is a professor at Florida A&M University School of Nursing, has been a member of Chi Eta Phi for some 17 years and has taken full advantage of the leadership opportunities the sorority offers.

“It has been a wonderful experience for me. It has given me the opportunity to grow, particularly as a leader,” she says. “When you’re in a job like academia, sometimes you have to stay forever before you get a chance to [move into] a leadership position. So as a nurse you may not have an opportunity to play a leadership role in your job, but if you are [involved with a professional organization like Chi Eta Phi], you can have a leadership position there that will teach you the same things that [a leadership] job would teach. It also gives you the chance to be a national leader where you [have a constituency of] 8,000 people, which is great.”

Some of the sorority’s newer programs are designed to assist the members in developing effective leadership skills. The leadership development programs include member development, officer development, the Leadership Fellows Program and the professional development program.

“We are working very hard to develop new leaders, not only to serve Chi Eta Phi but also to serve other organizations and to serve in the community,” says Stokes. “About three years ago we developed [the Leadership Fellows Program] to offer opportunities for members who are interested in holding national leadership positions or holding positions on a regional level. [The program gives them the opportunity to] work with a mentor for a year to develop in whatever area they are interested in.”
The program also provides funds that enable Fellows to travel, attend conferences and meet with their mentors.

Support for Students

Chi Eta Phi Sorority awards $50,000 annually in nursing scholarships, including the national Aliene Carrington Ewell Scholarship for undergraduate students and the Mabel Keaton Staupers National Scholarship Award, for students pursuing bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degrees. Other scholarships are available at the regional and local levels.

“One of the main [barriers to] education for minority students in nursing is [lack of] money,” Stokes says. “We are [especially] pleased that we can be part of supporting students while they are getting their undergraduate degrees.”

Mildred Fennal, PhD, RN, CCRN, 1st Supreme Anti-BasileusMildred Fennal, PhD, RN, CCRN, 1st Supreme Anti-Basileus

The sorority supports student nurses in every aspect of their lives, says Shakyra Stanfield, BSN, who recently graduated from Howard University and is now working at Yale New Haven Hospital in Connecticut.

“With school being the top priority when you are [Chi Eta Phi members] at the undergraduate level, [the RNs in the sorority provide assistance to] make sure we pass all our classes,” she explains. “We get a lot of support from our graduate chapter, which is like our parent chapter. They provide a lot of information and financial resources. If we need to take a class to help us prepare for the NCLEX®, they might fund us in those types of situations. When we were having some problems in one of our classes, members who had graduated from our [student] chapter came back and gave us lessons on how to study, on test-taking skills and how to prepare for exams.”

Stanfield joined Chi Eta Phi at a time when she had just changed her major to nursing. “One of the members of the organization came to our class and gave us information about the sorority,” she recalls. “Joining a nursing organization while in nursing school seemed like it would be a good idea.”

It turned out to be a wise move for this dynamic young leader, who currently holds the position of third vice president on the sorority’s national Board of Directors. Stanfield has forged strong friendships with other sorority members and has stayed in touch with other former student members as they have gone out into the professional world and become nurses.

Chi Eta Phi’s mission of providing community service is clearly evident at the student level as well. “Because we are a nursing sorority, we–of course–focus a lot on health. [Student members] go out into the community and do a lot of screening for chronic diseases or [other health problems],” Stanfield says. “Our chapter has also helped different kinds of populations at various events. We have gone to a senior service agency and delivered food for Thanksgiving. We also did some beautification projects at a local elementary school. We do many things in the community for the overall improvement of the general population.”

Fennal encourages undergraduate students to get involved in Chi Eta Phi because it gives them the opportunity to start their professional network while they are still in college.
“The sorority gives them access to all of these [minority nursing leaders] who have done all the contributing before them,” she says. “As a student, that immediately puts you in touch with people who have done work in nursing across the country. It is an excellent professional development opportunity for these young women, mostly, but also young men, to be mentored by people who have been in nursing for a while.

“We have a great undergraduate chapter here at Florida A&M,” Fennal adds.

Keeping the History Alive

Betty Smith Williams, DrPH, RN, FAAN, president of the National Coalition of Ethnic Minority Nurse Associations (NCEMNA), is an honorary member of the sorority. She sees the support network offered by organizations like Chi Eta Phi as a very positive opportunity for nurses of color.

NCEMNA President Betty Smith Williams, DrPH, RN, FAAN, is an honorary member of Chi Eta Phi.NCEMNA President Betty Smith Williams, DrPH, RN, FAAN, is an honorary member of Chi Eta Phi.

“A support system is very much a main thing one gets out of this type of organization–the chance to meet colleagues with the same basic interests,” she says. “Since 90% of nurses are not nurses of color, [minority nurses] can be very isolated. This support system is very important to help you grow as an individual, develop and build [professional] relationships and have the opportunity to mentor [or be mentored by] other people who are doing something to create a lifeline for [minority] individuals in nursing.

“[Today] the problems of segregation, discrimination and racism [still] exist,” Williams continues. “When [nurses of color] come together, you have more opportunities to shape your environments, shape policy and do some things to strengthen your position.”

Stokes agrees with that assessment. “We are a professional organization,” she stresses. “We bring a group of nurses and student nurses together who are dedicated to service, and with that commitment we are able to implement our national programs that have some impact in communities throughout the country.”

The 12 founding members of Chi Eta Phi who made history 75 years ago are all deceased, but they are far from forgotten. “Throughout the intake process , we learned [the founders’] names and we know where they [were] from and when [the sorority] was founded,” says Stanfield. “We cherish our founders. Their families still come to our events and are a part of the organization. [The history] is not lost at all.”

Jewels in the Crown: Chi Eta Phi’s Founding Sisters

Along with Aliene Carrington Ewell, 11 other courageous and visionary African American nurses helped found Chi Eta Phi Sorority in 1932. Like Ewell, they were all graduates of Freedmen’s Hospital School of Nursing, a diploma program for black nurses in Washington, D.C. The sorority refers to the founding sorors as its “Jewels.”

Soror Clara E. Beverly was the first black nurse to receive a BSN degree from the Catholic University of America (in 1944). She went on to pursue graduate studies at the University of Chicago. Returning to Washington, she worked at Freedman’s Hospital as a supervisor/instructor and then became director of nursing at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Tuskegee, Alabama. Beverly also served in the Army Nurse Corps and the U.S. Public Health Service School of Practical Nursing in Fort Defiance, Arizona. As the director of nursing education for the Tubman National Institute of Medical Arts School of Nursing in Monrovia, Liberia, West Africa, she was decorated by William V.S. Tubman, president of Liberia, as Knight Official of the Order of African Redemption. She died in 1978.

Soror Lillian M. Boswell did postgraduate work at Columbia University in New York City, the Catholic University of America and the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston. She was a staff nurse and operating room supervisor at Freedmen’s Hospital, where she received many awards for exemplary performance of duties. Boswell was held in high regard by the hospital’s administrators, surgeons and nurses for her expertise in operating room administration and for the instruction and guidance she gave to the medical and nursing staffs. She served as treasurer of Chi Eta Phi’s charter chapter, Alpha, from 1932 until her retirement in 1958. She died in 1986.

Soror Gladys Louise Catchings pursued postgraduate studies at the Catholic University of America, the District of Columbia Teacher’s College and New York University in New York City. She worked in private duty, hospital, geriatric and school nursing. After retiring, Catchings divided her time between Chicago and her birthplace, Georgetown, Georgia. She passed away in 1992.

Soror Bessie Foster Cephas worked in school nursing in Virginia and in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. On May 1, 1949, she organized the sorority’s Kappa Chapter in Pittsburgh. Soror Cephas died in 2000.

Soror Henrietta Smith Chisholm received her BSN degree from the Catholic University of America and worked in public health nursing. She held many national and local leadership positions in Chi Eta Phi, including national Tamiochus, Headquarters Trustee and Alpha Chapter Basileus, Anti-Basileus and Tamiochus. She died in 2006.

Soror Susan Elizabeth Freeman engaged in postgraduate studies at Columbia University, Howard University and the Catholic University of America. She worked at Freedmen’s Hospital in a variety of positions. During World War II, Freeman joined the Army Nurse Corps, serving as chief nurse at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., and chief nurse of the 25th Station Hospital in Liberia, where she commanded the first unit of black nurses to serve overseas. She was the first black Army nurse to be promoted to the rank of captain and she received many commendations, including a citation as Knight Official of the Order of African Redemption from the Liberian government. In 1945, she was honored with the Mary Mahoney Award from the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses. She passed away in 1979.

Soror Ruth Turner Garrett graduated from Freedmen’s Hospital School of Nursing in 1922. After her death in 1943, the sorority’s Alpha Chapter established the Ruth Garrett Memorial Fund in her name to recognize her work in ensuring that sorors who were ill received appropriate nursing intervention and care. This fund is still used today to pay for nursing services for ailing Chi Eta Phi members.

Soror Olivia Larkins Howard graduated from Freedmen’s Hospital School of Nursing in 1930 and embarked on a career in public health nursing. She was an original signee of the Articles of Incorporation for Chi Eta Phi Sorority on February 5, 1943. Soror Howard died in 1963.

Soror Mildred Wood Lucas did her postgraduate studies at Howard University, the Catholic University of America and the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond. Her career encompassed hospital nursing, public health, nursing education and school nursing. She served as a special services nurse for the American Red Cross in Louisville, Kentucky during the Great Ohio River Flood of 1937. In Chi Eta Phi, Lucas held the position of Grammateus in 1932 and served as national Tamias from 1945-1951. She was instrumental in stimulating interest in the sorority in Baltimore, where the Gamma Chapter was organized, and in her hometown of Hartford, Conn., where the Chi Chapter was established. She died in 1999.

Soror Clara Belle Royster pursued postgraduate studies at Howard University, the Catholic University of America and Columbia University. She was employed by Freedmen’s Hospital until she retired, serving in obstetrics and administration. She passed away in 1995.

Soror Katherine Chandler Turner received her bachelor’s degree in nursing education from Columbia University, then went on to do graduate studies at Wayne State University in Detroit and at Columbia University. Her professional career was in public health nursing, and she was the first black nursing supervisor in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. Turner served Chi Eta Phi as national Headquarters Trustee from 1976-1978. She was also active in professional and civic organizations, including the National Organization for Public Health and the American Red Cross. She died in 1991.