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Driving Change With the 2023 AANP National Leadership Award Recipients

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Nourish the role model in you with the help of the 2023 AANP National Leadership Award recipients.

How does one contribute to the national and international recognition and advancement of nurse practitioners (NPs)? Every year, the American Association of Nurse Practitioners® (AANP) provides new answers to that question by awarding two exemplary NPs with the AANP National Leadership Awards.

This year, William E. Rosa, PhD, MBE, NP-BC, FAAN, FAANP, received the 2023 AANP Towers Pinnacle Award, and James Q. Simmons, DNP, MSN, RN, AGACNP-BC, BSJMC, received the 2023 AANP Sharp Cutting Edge Award. Ahead of Rosa and Simmons’ celebration at the 2023 AANP National Conference in New Orleans, learn how these NP leaders got their start and their advice for fellow NPs looking to lead.

From Performing Arts to Palliative Care

Though now widely known as a palliative care researcher with a focus on increasing health equity — and a contributor to more than 150 academic publications and the editor of four books — Dr. Rosa once pursued a very different career path. On Episode 85 on NP Pulse: The Voice of the Nurse Practitioner®, Rosa shared his story. “My first degree was in musical theater […] I had a sweet little career as a dancer for a few years, and then I got injured very badly when I was 23. I fractured my left hip — I needed a few surgeries and wasn’t walking for a little while. I developed some real empathy for people who have to go through surgeries like that and patients who have a lot of pain.”

Rosa’s own personal experience with physical rehabilitation brought him to massage therapy school and, eventually, becoming an NP. “I realized there was so much more to who I am and what I can do in the world than performing and being on stage, and it was a really meaningful pivot point for me,” said Rosa. Since then, his career has orbited around palliative care and pain management: “It was really building relationships with the family caregivers who are at bedside, alleviating the symptom distress of my patients and procuring their humanity in times when they are so easily dehumanized that brought me joy and brought my daily life meaning.”

Staving Off Stigma to Stop HIV

Dr. Simmons is a founding and continuing Clinical Ambassador for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) “Let’s Stop HIV Together” campaign. While discussing the importance of eliminating HIV stigma on Episode 60 of NP Pulse, he shared a powerful experience that forever changed him. “One of the very first patients on my clinical rotations as a registered nurse (RN) was a patient — we’ll just call him Dee. This was a young Black man from the West side of Chicago who was hospitalized for a number of opportunistic infections relating to an HIV diagnosis he didn’t know he had.”

Simmons related strongly to the plight of this patient. “He was me, laying in that bed. The thing that was so profound for me was: no one’s talking to Dee in a way that Dee is receiving this information. No one looks like Dee, no one has Dee’s shared experiences and people are just using all these medical terms and throwing all these things around. […] He really stuck with me as a prime example of how our system as a whole is really failing so many individuals like Dee.” Unfortunately, Dee passed away from complications stemming from those opportunistic infections. Since then, Simmons has sought to educate, relate to and empower patients to better their health. Whether he’s talking to patients about the latest in HIV prevention and treatment or answering patients’ questions online through his Ask the NP series, he carries the memory of Dee with him as a motivator to press forward and be a leader in his field.

Learning to Lead as an NP

The busy life of an NP often leaves little time or energy for your professional development. Nevertheless, Rosa believes you can begin the journey to leadership within your own role. “We have all these workforce shortages, all these things we have to do, not enough hands on deck, etc. Yet, among all the complaints and restraints, nothing changes if nothing changes. And so, advocacy is the opportunity for nurses to step up and change — change practice, change culture, change approach, change how evidence is integrated into practice. Even if you only have control over your work that day as a clinician or practitioner — just changing how you go about that work could role model what could be different.”

Where knowledge gaps persist, Simmons encourages NPs to explore additional resources and education to support your success. “All this stuff is there for you and your patients. It can be really easy, and just think of the impact that 355,000 of us at that unique intersection of understanding health equity and social determinants of health can make.”

How do these NPs recommend you lead change and advocate for patients? You can utilize the skills you already have. Rosa stated, “Nurses know how to communicate — empathic, person-centered communication. We know how to set an agenda and fight an agenda; negotiate an agenda. We know how to express empathy and track what’s happening with somebody cognitively and emotionally at the same time.” Simmons adds to that sentiment, noting that, “Not only do we have excellent clinical outcomes equal to or better in some cases than those of our colleagues, but people like us more and listen to us more. They trust us, so let’s use that power.”

Get Inspired With NP Pulse: The Voice of the Nurse Practitioner®

Want to listen to more inspiring NP stories on your own road to professional leadership? Glean insights from NP leaders such as Rosa, Simmons and many more on NP Pulse: The Voice of the Nurse Practitioner®. Be sure to subscribe to NP Pulse on your preferred podcast provider and stay tuned for new episodes each month.

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