Advocacy as Prevention

» Nurse advocates fill vital roles in their communities—serving the public from the front of the courtroom, a seat at the board table, or the lobby of the state house.

MMU Nursing as the State Capitol

At Mount Mercy University, the faculty value the importance of advocacy training. Legislative Day, an important advocacy training tool, shows students that working directly with legislators is sometimes the most effective way to advocate for their patients.

“It’s easy to say you have compassion, but sometimes it’s hard to direct it and understand the impact you have.” — Andrea Wilhite ’14

Once a year, Mount Mercy nursing students, faculty and alumni spend an afternoon at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines, meeting with law makers to discuss health care legislation and its impact on patients and nurses.

The state-wide Iowa Nurses Association Legislative Day attracts almost 300 attendees each year. Participants spend mornings learning the importance of harnessing nursing’s political power and how to approach legislators with a simple, clear message.

“Health policies and laws are made every day, and they affect the whole health care system, including nurses,” said Dr. Sharon Guthrie, assistant professor of nursing at Mount Mercy and the trip’s yearly organizer.

Guthrie said student training in advocacy is essential and should be practiced much like other nursing skills.

“We want students to understand the political process, how policy is developed and made, and that it can take years to finish,” Guthrie said. “We also want students to feel comfortable interacting with legislators. I think the public is often intimidated because they’re not legislators, but what I consistently tell students is ‘You’re a nurse. You know what you know, and they don’t know what you know.’”

[photo] Andrea Wilhite '14
Andrea Wilhite ’14

Encouraged by faculty, Andrea Wilhite ’14 was involved with the INA Legislative Day as a student and now sits on the organization’s board of directors as director of newly licensed RNs.

“Mount Mercy’s nursing faculty provided a solid foundation knowledge-wise, but also helped develop my compassion and respect,” Wilhite said. “It’s easy to say you have compassion, but sometimes it’s hard to direct it and understand the impact you have. Understanding what faculty was involved in and why they were involved helped me understand the impact I could have.”

Two years into her career, Wilhite looks back at her college experience with pride.

“I don’t think I understood everything Mount Mercy gave me until I got out into the world,” she said. “They gave me the knowledge base that formed me into who I am as a nurse, and I continue to keep my mind open to current social issues.

“I value each individual as a person, and I don’t always see that from other people. As a student, I often heard ‘you can always spot the difference between a Mount Mercy grad and someone else,’ and now as a nurse, I understand that.”

Solving Public Health Needs Through Understanding Community

Public Health Specialist Mary Rose Corrigan-Psihoyos ’85 works every day to address the physical, mental and environmental health concerns of Dubuque’s population. With nearly 60,000 community members, managing the city’s health department is no small task.

[photo] Mary Rose Corrigan-Psihoyos '85
Mary Rose Corrigan-Psihoyos ’85

“I like to look at the needs of people, the needs of the community, and root causes of problems and issues,” Corrigan-Psihoyos said. “Often it requires more work, but I think being fair and trying to look at the real problem also helps you understand where people are coming from, and that in turn helps you to work with them and come to a good solution.”

Corrigan-Psihoyos landed in Dubuque’s health department when she was studying for boards. The city offered her a temporary, and later, full-time job related to environment health and inspections. Just four years later, she became the city’s health department supervisor and remains in the position today.

“Public health has a lot of variety and, because we look at community health as a whole, a lot of what we do touches everyone,” Corrigan- Psihoyos said. “Whether it’s policy work or enforcement work or advocacy, it has the potential to have a big impact on the community.”

Though she was integral in developing many of the city’s programs still used, her proudest moment was when her team was able to establish a federally-qualified health center, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary.

The Law of Health Care

Nancy Penner ’81 takes the lessons learned in nursing school at Mount Mercy and in an early career with hospitals, and applies them to the law as an attorney for Shuttleworth & Ingersoll, P.L.C., in Cedar Rapids.

Though she had a great love for her nursing work, a risk manage­ment position exposed Penner to legal issues that impact health care providers and patients. The challenge of fully understanding some of those issues, and the proximity of the University of Iowa, sent her back to school.

[photo] Nancy Penner '81
Nancy Penner ’81

Now, as a senior vice president in the firm, her focus is on health care legal issues, including the defense of medical malpractice lawsuits. Much of Penner’s work is focused on the areas of health law, medical malpractice and appellate litigation.

Penner uses her nursing background and hospital experience regularly. On any given day, she might talk to a medical expert about allegations in a case, review a provider’s quality improvement process, or draft an argument on a topic such as informed consent. In such work, Penner finds it helpful to have experience with hospitals, medical conditions and how health care professionals work together.

Though not connected on a day-to-day level with the medical field any longer, Penner’s work as a lawyer has an impact on how medical law is practiced and executed in Iowa—an invaluable service to the health care field.

In addition to her work, Penner is active in the community as a way to stay connected with health care and nursing. Service is valued at Shuttleworth & Ingersoll and by Penner personally. One way Penner attempts to stay connected is to choose volunteer activities related to health care. She lends her extensive expertise to local medical and policy boards and organizations including the Continuing Care Hospital Board at St. Luke’s, the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women Executive Committee, and volunteers as an attorney for Iowa Legal Aid.