Welcome to the Spring edition of Matchwell Time Out. This month we are talking with Tina Gerardi, MS, RN, CAE, and the Tennessee Nurses Association Executive Director. Tina puts the “pow” in power as an advocate for nurses and the larger community in Tennessee. Our conversation with Tina is perfectly timed since the American Nurses Association recently released a Smart Brief with key findings like nurses are exhausted, with some planning to leave the profession. The American Nurses Association’s survey got us wondering what nurse leaders think the nursing profession should focus on this year. Tina talks about the importance of building relationships, networking, knowing your state’s Nurse Practice Act, and championing your work with the same enthusiasm, you do for your patients. Nurses have endured a lot of pain and stress over the last year, and with the current nursing shortage, Tina is a shining example of the power nurses have if our voices are collective. Sit back, relax, and get ready to learn from one of the industry’s most incredible leaders.
Tell us a little about your journey as a nurse.
I have wanted to be a nurse for as long as I can remember. My grandmother took care of my great grandparents, who lived at home as they aged into their 90s. I always wanted to take care of people the way my grandmother took care of her parents. I went to the State University of New York at Plattsburgh for my Bachelor of Science degree in nursing and began my nursing career in 1980. I worked at Albany Medical Center in Albany, NY as a nurse on the spinal cord trauma and rehabilitation unit. After three years as a staff nurse, I continued my education. I received my master’s degree in nursing and a certificate as a family nurse practitioner and family clinical nurse specialist from Binghamton University. I returned to Albany Medical Center as a CNS and became more involved in quality improvement, risk management, and administrative work over the next few years. I transitioned to nursing association management in 1992 and have been working in that capacity ever since.
You are currently the Executive Director for Tennessee Nurses Association. Tell us about your role and the organization’s focus.
TNA is the professional association representing the interests of the state’s 110,000 registered nurses. The TNA vision is to be the unifying voice for nursing in Tennessee to influence the future of healthcare positively. My work focuses on empowering the registered nurse, advocating for the practice of nursing, and championing quality healthcare for all Tennesseans.
Describe two pivotal moments in your career that got you where you are today.
The first pivotal moment in my career occurred during unexpected leave. I had emergency surgery and was out of work for eight weeks. During my recovery, I thought about my career and the direction I wanted to take. I decided to further my education and get my master’s degree and Family Nurse Practitioner and Clinical Nurse Specialist certificates. The second pivotal moment was when I decided to apply for the vacant deputy director position at the New York State Nurses Association. My “patient” changed from an individual to the profession of nursing.
What is your opinion of the current nursing shortage, and how has it changed over your career?
The profession has experienced cyclical nursing shortages forever. In the past, changes in the economy helped to increase or decrease the nursing shortage. During a good economy, nurses may leave the workforce to pursue additional education or start families. During a poor economy, nurses come back into the workforce because there is always a need for nurses. The current nursing shortage will be different because of the pandemic’s effects on nurses’ personal and professional lives. Many nurses are burnt out, devastated by what they have seen and had to endure over the past year, and they will permanently leave the profession. When this happens, and the economy dips, we will not have access to those nurses who would have, in the past, chosen to return or re-enter the workforce. They will be gone. Their absence will result in a prolonged shortage until students in the pipeline can graduate and enter the profession.
You are deeply involved in lobbying for the nurses and patients in Tennessee. What are issues that you think every nurse should be well versed in, especially this year?
Nurses should understand their state’s nurse practice act (NPA) and what they can and cannot do legally as a registered nurse or advanced practice registered nurse. NPAs are pretty different in each state, so just because something is legal in one state does not necessarily mean it is legal in your state. Nurses should follow proposed legislation or regulatory changes very closely and advocate as strongly for their professional practice as they do for their patients. If nurses do not control nursing practice in the state, someone else will most likely organize medicine. Know who your state legislators are and how to reach them. Open a line of communication with them when you do not need them to do anything for you. It makes it easier to connect with them when you do need their assistance.
Considering nurses make up the largest group of healthcare professionals in the US, our collective voices are powerful. Often people think of nursing as falling under the authority of physicians (organized medicine). What are your thoughts on that perspective, and why is it important for nurses to control nursing practice versus organized medicine?
This perspective is antiquated, and unfortunately, prevails from the origins of nursing. As a predominantly female profession with deep roots in the religious orders, the stereotype of handmaiden to male physicians has perpetuated in some areas. Nursing is an independent profession based on the arts and sciences. Registered nurses are experts at patient assessment, patient education, complex patient care, and innovators in evidence-based practice. All of which can be done in collaboration with the medical diagnosis and our physician colleagues, not under the supervision or control of medicine. We need to do a better job of articulating what nurses do to our patients and the general public. The pandemic has highlighted more than ever that nurses are the backbone of the healthcare delivery system. Nursing goes well beyond passing medications and being caring and compassionate. Nurses must control nursing practice so that any other profession does not stifle our independence and innovation.
If a nurse wants to learn more about making a more significant impact on the practice of nursing, what are three easy things they can do?
Join your state nurses association to be more informed on nursing practice, education, and research in your state. Attend your state nurses association’s lobby day, where you will learn about legislation that year that will impact your practice and healthcare in your state. Attend your state nurses association annual conference, attend a board of nursing meeting, attend a specialty nursing association meeting not only for the educational sessions and legislative sessions but to network with colleagues to learn about their practice, triumphs, and challenges. This networking can add value to your experience as a nurse.
Your work in the nursing profession is inspiring. Before we go, tell us a fun fact about yourself!
I love to travel and experience different cultures and have enjoyed sharing that passion with my nieces and nephews. When each graduated from high school, I took them on a trip anywhere in the world they wanted to go. We have traveled to the Caribbean Islands, Africa, Australia, Europe, Japan and experienced Broadway in New York City. Each was an adventure and so much fun!!
We have goosebumps after reading Tina’s interview. Her sincere words inspire nurses to remember our numbers’ power and the impact we can make as a unified profession. Whether you’re a spring chicken or the grass has been growing under your feet for a while, you’ll not only want to join your state’s nursing association and start advocating for your profession, but you’ll also want to call her Aunt Tina.