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How Jan Towers Made Women’s History as a Nurse Practitioner Leader

Jan Towers

Hear from living legend and the namesake behind the Towers Pinnacle Award: Jan Towers, PhD, NP-C, CRNP, FAAN, FAANP, an accomplished and much-admired leader of the nurse practitioner movement.

Dr. Towers has been at the forefront of advancing nurse practitioner (NP) policy on the state and federal level since the beginning of the NP profession, guiding health policy initiatives to ensure that NPs and their patients are represented wherever health care is being discussed. Since graduating from one of the first baccalaureate programs for NPs at Duke University and becoming an NP in 1976, Dr. Towers has been committed to raising awareness of the NP role and expanding NP professional organizations’ leadership on health policy issues.

Not only was she one of the founders of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners in 1985, as well as the founding editor of the Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (JAANP) in 1989, but she has also held faculty positions developing and directing family nurse practitioner (FNP) programs and has served as a health policy and curriculum consultant for multiple government agencies and private educational programs, including the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB).

There isn’t an aspect of the NP role that has not been influenced by Dr. Towers. If you’re an NP, much of how you practice has been shaped by the work she has done over the last four decades. Today, she continues to support AANP through her work as senior policy advisor.

With equal parts humility and the desire to recruit future leaders, Dr Towers says, “Success requires teamwork, and all the accomplishments we’ve achieved for the NP role have been due to the work of dedicated advocates. It’s important for everyone to step up to the plate and make a strong argument for what you believe in. Who is going to advocate for our patients if we do not?”

Under the Apple Tree

Dr. Towers says she first identified the need for an NP association when she was leading the NP program at The Pennsylvania State University: “I began to see that new graduates needed additional support. They were often the only NP in their entire organization, and they weren’t always well accepted by their colleagues. They wanted somewhere to join together, to increase their understanding of how to build relationships with clinic or office staff, to find resources to excel in practice, to obtain continuing education (CE) and more.”

NP groups began to form, including five local NP organizations in Pennsylvania. After the Chicago Forum in 1985, where multiple nursing groups met to discuss pressing issues, a steering committee was identified to explore the idea of creating a national NP organization. Thus, the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners was founded — under an apple tree in Dr. Towers’ backyard — to unite NPs of every specialty and practice setting.

“There weren’t very many of us NPs in those days. We were a bunch of mavericks, learning to do things beyond the traditional scope of a registered nurse (RN),” says Dr. Towers. “We needed to have our work become legally recognized, which led to health policy.”

The three core health policy issues the Academy first took on were NP title recognition, prescriptive authority and reimbursement. Progress came, state by state, as multiple NP organizations advocated on Capitol Hill.

“Our theme was the same no matter which organization you came from: ‘Many voices, one message.’ NPs weren’t always taken seriously at first, but once we got legislation passed, the picture changed,” says Dr. Towers. She helped coordinate outreach, using phone trees to ensure NPs were represented when and where it mattered, and helped author legislation. Her home state of Pennsylvania became one of the first to obtain NP reimbursement from private insurers.

On January 1, 2013, the Academy and the American College of Nurse Practitioners came together to form the American Association of Nurse Practitioners® (AANP). “We knew when the NP role was still in its early stages that we needed leadership and representation for our role in health care,” adds Dr. Towers. “Reflecting upon AANP now, I can say it has clearly been well worth the investment.”

AANP Going and Growing Strong

Dr. Towers reports that the historic apple tree is still flourishing in her backyard, just as AANP has grown to become the largest national professional association for NPs.

Now, as we look toward the future of AANP and the NP role, it’s important to recognize our past and understand the path we’ve taken to get to where we are today. Launched in 2013, the Towers Pinnacle Award was created to acknowledge other NPs and NP advocates who exemplify Dr. Towers’ advocacy, passion and dedication to the advancement of the NP role through policy, practice and education.

“It’s very kind of my colleagues to see me as an example of what to reward in others. To have my name associated with things we consider high standards — you don’t expect these things, and it’s very flattering!” says Dr. Towers. “The awardees hail from different perspectives and backgrounds, but they’re all recognized as people who reached out and tried to help the profession. We’ve had exceptional applicants.”

In recognition of her own steadfast commitment, keen insight and vigilance, Dr. Towers was named a recipient of the FAANP Legacy Award in 2020. This award honors, recognizes and memorializes members of the Fellows of AANP (FAANP) whose lifelong careers have had a profound and enduring impact on the nursing profession and the NP role, articulating a dream that others share and follow.

“A number of years ago, I said that the goal was to make it so that NPs would be the recognized primary care providers in the U.S. By coming together as one unified voice, I think we’ve actually reached that goal,” says Dr. Towers.

“NPs are providing leadership in many ways and places; we step up to the plate as much as we can. I represent the work of hundreds of NPs who have strived to make a positive difference. We started with a group of 45 people and now we’re up to more than 122,000; I think we’ve done something right.”

Make Your Voice Heard

Nursing is the most trusted profession in the U.S. Patients trust nurses, including advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) like NPs, to advocate for their health and the health of their communities.

“It’s about having empathy and keeping patients at the center of your work, whether clinically or in advocacy. Policymakers often note our patient-centered outreach on the Hill, which is a natural extension of the care NPs provide to patients,” says Dr. Towers.

“It’s also important to recognize in yourself that you are capable of explaining your point of view to legislators. You don’t have to be the leader of the class or a king or queen to effect change — you can be influential at any level. As we continue to make our case and patients continue to choose NPs, we have all the more reason to take that step.”

Use the AANP Advocacy Center to send a message to your elected officials urging their support for legislative measures that seek to improve patient health and increase patient access to the health care provider of their choice.

Take Action at the AANP Advocacy Center