Interview by Laura Lesley
Martha Dawson, DNP, RN, FACHE, is a two-time UAB School of Nursing alumna and is Associate Professor in the Department of Family, Community and Health Systems. She has previously held senior-level roles in community hospitals and academic medical centers including Vice President of Clinical Operations and Chief Nurse Executive. Dawson has served as principal investigator, project director and coordinator on Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and foundation grants exceeding $2.5 million. This year, she became president of the National Black Nurses Association (NBNA, Inc.).
Q: How does NBNA support diversity in nursing and health care?
A: One of the pillars of NBNA is to address diversity in terms of improving population health and addressing health care determinants. We strongly believe that in order to increase access to health care and improve population health, we need a diverse nursing workforce. This includes diversity of race, ethnicity, age, gender, education preparation and nursing specialty. Even within our own organization, we promote diversity among our membership; we have African Americans, Caucasians, Hispanics and males, and we are one of the few professional nursing organizations that welcomes both Registered Nurses, Licensed Professional Nurses and student nurses.
Q: How does a diversity of perspectives improve the quality of health care?
A: NBNA wants to improve the percentage of under-represented ethnicities within the nursing profession to bring a broader cultural perspective to our profession for the benefit of our patients. This includes but is not limited to supporting Hispanics, Native Americans, Asians and Filipinos as they enter the nursing workforce. Nursing is both an art and a science; the “art” is caring for a patient from a holistic perspective in terms of addressing emotional, physical and health education needs. Therefore, it is important to have nurses caring for patients who can understand their life experiences from their unique cultural perspective.
Q: Describe how your research and past work as principal investigator for a HRSA workforce investment grant will influence your actions as president of NBNA.
A: The HRSA Workforce Investment Grant focused on increasing the number of underrepresented groups in the nursing profession. My prior work with diversity and this grant served as the foundation for my work with NBNA in terms of encouraging others to seek a nursing career and to see it as a viable profession. The HRSA grant focused on encouraging high school students to consider nursing as a career; working with pre-nursing students to help them meet the GPA criteria for admittance into the nursing program; and helping those individuals matriculate through nursing school and successfully graduate and pass their board examinations. Similarly, NBNA is engaged in encouraging nurses to continue their informal and formal education.
Q: What is your vision for the future of NBNA, African American nurses and all nurses from diverse backgrounds?
A: My vision is for nurses to continue moving forward as a single voice when we’re advocating for professional advancements that provide more autonomy and support for our profession. As NBNA President, I want to support nurses’ involvement in moving all of these aspects of our profession forward, and I strive to drive policies external to the practice and academic environments supporting nurses from diverse backgrounds at the local, state and national levels. Rather than shying away from the political aspects of the nursing profession, we have to become comfortable with power and being involved in healthcare policy issues. We must be at the table armed with data and knowledge to help drive decision-making.
Q: What career advice would you give nurses seeking to advance their role and career, especially those from diverse backgrounds?
A: First, nurses need to be involved in at least two professional organizations, such as the NBNA, that are aligned with their career goals because being involved will help to identify influential role models and mentors. Secondly, nurses should be prepared to advance their education, whether through professional continuing education or pursuing formal education culminating in a degree. Nursing is definitely a profession where you have to be committed to lifelong learning, because our environment is rapidly changing due to new diseases and discoveries. There are days when I feel as if I am just beginning my professional career; therefore I am constantly growing and learning.