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Ensuring the Health Of The Nation: Former Surgeons General Let Nursing Students Know What It Takes  

group of US Surgeons General Students in the Master of Science in Nursing (M.S.N.)-Clinical Nurse Leader program recently had the rare opportunity to attend an intimate conversation with former U.S. Surgeons Generals Drs. Antonia Novello, Joycelyn Elders, David Satcher, and Richard Carmona at the New York Academy of Medicine. The evening provided a first-hand perspective on the stresses of setting the national agenda for health and wellness as a priority above the politics of the administration that appointed them. Despite their collective observations of the office becoming more political recently, all four doctors urged current and aspiring healthcare practitioners in attendance to stand by their principles when confronted with critical issues.

"We are 20 Surgeons General since 1871. We are 17 men and three women. We were never political," stated Dr. Antonia Novello, 14th Surgeon General of the U.S. Although personally appointed by the president of the United States, the job of the U.S. Surgeon General is to remain non-partisan, to place personal politics aside, and work in earnest to champion the best interests of the public's health – sometimes in opposition to the pressures otherwise put upon them.

Dr. Joycelyn Elders, 15th Surgeon General of the U.S., served from 1993 until late 1994 before resigning at the request of President Bill Clinton for "values contrary to the administration." A controversy arose after a frank remark Elders had made during a United Nations World Aids Day Conference that attempted to directly address options that may limit transmittal of the virus.

The Clinical Nurse Leader students in attendance all shared a common perspective that standing up in any healthcare situation can sometimes have serious consequences. Chris Magdelinskas, a student in the program, stated, "They reaffirmed to me that right may not always be popular. Their discussion really inspired courage." When the students were asked how they might deal with a difficult situation, such as going against protocol in a potential life-or-death occurrence, Kameil Gash, a fellow student, suggested that doing thorough research on an organization prior to accepting employment can sometimes allow a healthcare professional to determine if their values are aligned.

In recent years, the Surgeons General have sought to publicize and address disparities in health care and outcomes among the nation's increasingly diverse population. This, too, was a topic on which the four guest speakers could provide first-hand knowledge, as they included the first female, African American, and Hispanic Surgeons General appointed to the position. Richard Carmona, 17th Surgeon General of the U.S., is also a nurse in addition to being a physician – an aspect of particular resonance to the students in terms of identifying parallel experiences. Student Sarah Morabu referenced Novello's comment on how she and Elders as minority women felt additionally challenged to do the same in a position previously occupied only by white men.

Morabu and the other female students in the group were honored to meet with Novello at the conclusion of the program. They all agreed to feeling a particular connection with her due to her outspoken speech on empowering women to continue leading in every area of public health.

According to David Satcher, 16th Surgeon General for the U.S., "(Surgeons General) are the bridge between science, practice and policy." Magdelinskas felt that this captured the essence of his future profession – a challenge he understood and was prepared to embrace.

Clinical Associate Professor and Director of the Clinical Nurse Leader Program Pamela Galehouse, Ph.D., R.N., indicated that in her extensive nursing career she had experienced many occasions where difficult decisions presented potential consequences. However, she affirmed that working within a team environment - prepared mentally as well as physically - was the best course of action for her aspiring class of tomorrow's nursing leaders. "Understanding the evidence and having the skills to present it to the team and get their buy-in drives the health of any population," she declared.

Learn more about the M.S.N. – Clinical Nurse Leader program here.

Categories: Health and Medicine

For more information, please contact:

  • Michael Giorgio
  • (973) 275-4953
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