I am an organizational junkie with no apologies. As many of you know, I started my political activism in nursing when I served as president of the National Student Nurses Association (NSNA). That gave me the unique opportunity to become involved in the American Nurses Association (ANA) before I graduated from my basic nursing program. There was never any question I would join ANA and become a lifelong, card-carrying member.
Recently I had the privilege of addressing the 60th anniversary convention of NSNA. While preparing my remarks, I poured over events shaping U.S. social and healthcare history, as well as accomplishments and challenges in nursing during the past 60 years. At annual conventions and in regular reports in the American Journal of Nursing, ANA wrestled with the pressing issues of the day to advocate for nurses and patient care. What became obvious immediately was the seminal role ANA had played in each decade to “lead change and advance health”—the same mantra used to promote action in the recent Institute of Medicine report, “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health.”
In the 1950s, ANA spearheaded efforts to formalize health manpower planning, foster legislative action to expand nurse practice acts, and secure gains in economic security. The 1960s were a decade of tremendous and tumultuous social change. ANA’s Committee on Education penned the position paper that proposed the baccalaureate degree for entry into professional nursing practice and further described associate-degree education for beginning technical practice and vocational education for nursing assistants. The creation of Medicare and Medicaid fueled new demand for nurses in hospitals. ANA held a seat on the Health Insurance Benefits Council, which established regulations for administration of the initial Medicare program.
I entered nursing in the mid-1970s—an era revolutionized by availability and acceptability of birth control for women. The advent of “The Pill” was one of the most liberating changes for women, giving them more control over pregnancy and career commitment. In 1974, the Taft Hartley amendments to the National Labor Relations Act allowed nurses and hospital workers to organize and collectively bargain for wages, hours, and working conditions—a significant change for nurses that ANA supported. The first Standards for Nursing Practice, published in 1973, became the bedrock of practice. Formalized certification programs were developed, validating greater knowledge and expertise in specialty practice. To address the see-saw nursing workforce shortages, attention turned to improving the work environment and methods to bring new nurses into their first jobs to quell the “reality shock” that led to rapid attrition of new graduates.
In the 1980s, ANA aggressively pursued advancements in research, education, practice, policy, and infrastructure for the organization. The original version of Nursing: A Social Policy Statement was issued, affirming the profession’s commitment to society to protect the revered trust and service that are the hallmarks of nursing practice. In 1990, the American Nurses Credentialing Center was incorporated and approval was given to establish the Magnet Recognition Program®. In 1992, ANA moved all operations to Washington to strengthen its marquee legislative advocacy and health policy work on behalf of all nurses.
In the 21st century, ANA has consistently advocated for improved working conditions, advanced quality and safety for patients and nurses, and served as the national and international voice for promoting the rights and roles of nurses as key providers of healthcare services.
I’ve barely scratched the surface of the ways ANA serves every nurse and has acted on our behalf since its inception. What’s remarkable is that ANA does this without expecting every nurse to support its work financially. Even if ANA supports certain positions or products that some nurses don’t support philosophically, the vast majority of ANA’s work is arguably the most valuable professional advocacy we could ask for. ANA has been paying it forward to create a strong professional home for all nurses so generations to come will enjoy autonomous, well-compensated, and well-respected practice.
A question on a recent survey from a specialty organization to which I belong asked, “Is this your primary nursing organization?” I immediately checked the “No” box. Then it asked, “What is your primary nursing organization and why?” That was easy: ANA. Why? Because it’s the unified voice of professional nursing and promotes and protects the interests of all nurses and patients.
As Gretta Styles once wrote, “Imagine a world without nurses.” We cannot.
Imagine a world without ANA. We cannot.