Distinguished Alumna Joanne Disch
Over the course of Disch’s board tenure, AARP was involved in two of the most contentions public-policy debates in decades—first the controversial Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003, and later the privatization of Social Security, which AARP opposed in 2005. More recently, AARP has been working with both the current president and the 2008 candidates on the hot-button issue of health-care reform. “We’ve done major pushing to get support for some of the things they’re trying to do in California in terms of trying to pick up people who are uninsured, “she says.
Despite the general perception of AARP as being only for seniors, Disch says the organization is increasingly focusing on issues affecting people under 50—particularly younger Americans who find themselves in the role of primary caregiver for their elderly parents, as well as the millions of children whose guardians are their grandparents. “Around four million grandparents are the sole providers for their grandkids, so the rights of grandparents are obviously a real concern for us,” she says.
In each of those instances, the ability to view the issue through the “nursing lens” has broadened her knowledge and leadership skills, Disch says. “Nursing is like running small businesses all over the place,” she explains. “While the core is still taking care of the patients and their families, that’s expressed in so many different ways and even those of us who are no longer taking care of patients are using those skills. That skill set—being able to see the big picture—can be used anywhere.”
Disch, who went on to earn her PhD from the University of Michigan, credits her SON professors, particularly Marguerite Kinney, DNSc, for being “wonderful mentors” who gave her the resources to succeed much later on in life. However, she remembers her fellow students—one of who was current UAB president Carol Z. Garrison—as being a special group, too.
Disch says that she sees that same “collegial spirit” at the SON when she looks at the school today. “When I get the alumni magazine and see what’s going on at UAB, I can tell that the students are being taught to see things through that ‘nursing lens’ and that they’re learning how to skillfully apply that to other situations,” she says. “What’s going on at UAB now is very impressive.”