I have been a nurse for over 30 years, and it is a profession that truly speaks to me, one in which we do not see “patients” but rather see “people” for who they are and what their lives are. I have had the privilege of caring for individuals at some of the most difficult times of their lives, and I bring these experiences to the work that I do now as a researcher and teacher. One of the most important lessons that I have learned over all these years is that no one can do this work on their own, and having a community improves the care we give as well as the experience of being a nurse. Our community, however, goes well beyond nurses. Every day I work with people in other professions who hold the same values that I do, who care about the people we serve, and who challenge me to think in new and different ways that ultimately improve my own work. I feel lucky to work with nurses, but also with doctors, psychologists, sociologists, epidemiologists, case managers, medical assistants, policy makers, and all the other professionals who are committed to improving care for people living with HIV. These partnerships help us provide the best care that we can.
Finding a Professional Home
During my annual evaluation one year, Jackie, my department chair, looked over my past conference presentations and remarked how I would present at a social work conference in Boston, then a psychology conference in Philadelphia, then an HIV conference in Dallas, and so forth and so on. Being the happy little conference butterfly, I fluttered across the field of health care topics and disciplines with whimsy but with no clear agenda in mind either. Being a straight shooter, Jackie fired a sharp question at me, “Where is your professional home?”
She proceeded to explain that for my professional development, it is important to align myself with an organization with which I share common interests, values, and goals. Such an organization should provide opportunities to network and collaborate with others nationally and perhaps internationally, be a marketplace to share my scholarly products (i.e., articles and presentations), and keep me abreast of advances in my field of interest. Finally, it should simply be a place to hang my hat professionally and have opportunities to grow as a leader.
Jackie gave me a lot to think about. At the time, I thought exposure to a variety of different disciplines was important—and it clearly is—but finding a professional home where I could invest my time, where I could grow, and one to which I could contribute resonated with me. It made sense to “bloom where I was planted” to coin a phrase. I had to think about it but, fortunately, I did not have to think for long.
In my fluttering around, I had found that the massively large mainstream conferences were great venues for displaying my scholarship, for learning a variety of new things, and for catching up with colleagues every few years, yet I found some of these megaconferences so overwhelming and often lonely, with limited opportunities for making true connections. As I re-evaluated, it occurred to me that perhaps I already had a professional home. I had been publishing regularly in JANAC, attending ANAC's annual meetings (you cannot beat the Gala, with all the traditions and dancing!), and already considered many of the ANAC's members to be among my closest colleagues.
I have worked in a school of nursing since 2006, so nursing, as a profession, discipline, and especially as a culture was not lost on me. As a non-nurse, it seemed a little odd at first to dip my professional toe into this organization, with “nurses” clearly announced in its organizational name. How was being a member of this organization going to help me professionally or promote my own research? How could I contribute to a nursing organization? In fact, what kind of support would I receive, being a professional outsider?
Professional Outsider? Not!
What I quickly discovered was that, as a psychologist, I was welcomed as an equal and as an ally in the fight against HIV. When it comes to combating a socially, psychologically, and medically complex disease such as HIV, all expertise is needed, from everyone. Nurses get it, and nursing as a profession has a long history of interprofessional collaboration and teamwork (Selleck et al., 2017; Shirey et al., 2019). We see this described in many articles on HIV interprofessional teams in practice (Toro et al., 2012) as well as in scholarship and research (Caiola & Flores, 2015; Polanco et al., 2011). In fact, some of these articles are published in JANAC itself.
So my foray into ANAC seemed a natural, organic fit. I slowly directed more and more of my scholarship to JANAC because I considered my target population of readers to be practice and research nurses and those who provide direct care to PLWH. Eventually, I was invited to join the JANAC Editorial Board, which led to being appointed to the ANAC Executive Board as a Director-at-Large, the first non-nurse I am proud to add. I am now on my second year serving in this capacity.
As a psychologist, working in nursing has helped me tremendously; it has helped me understand the clinical relevance and impact of psychology in providing input and layered expertise to nursing practice and research. As an aging specialist and HIV-focused cognitive psychologist, I have been able to integrate my professional expertise in how to deliver care to PLWH at risk of cognitive impairment or HIV-associated neurocognitive disorder (Vance et al., 2019).
In addition to these obvious advantages, the networks I have developed from participating in ANAC over the years have added countless professional opportunities. I have been invited to deliver speeches at various nursing and health care venues, to collaborate on numerous articles, and had the opportunity to invite nurse clinicians and researchers to collaborate to improve the value and reach of the work I have been doing.
With nearly 3 million nurses in the United States alone, nurses have extensive professional reach and political clout in addition to being at the juxtaposition of health care and social policy, medical advancement, and patient care. As a psychologist wanting to improve HIV patient outcomes, it makes sense to partner with nurses with similar specialized focus.
Nursing Allies Needed
As the landscape of HIV changes, our focus shifts toward complex issues such as PrEP delivery, successful aging with HIV, social determinants of health, and emerging medical technologies. Thus, all disciplines and professions are needed at the table to advance nursing practice as well as to move to transdisciplinary solutions where nurses and other allied health professionals will need to collaborate on national and international problems we face with HIV. As a Director-at-Large, I can report that the ANAC Board is cognizant that how we treated and addressed HIV even 5 years ago is not the same as how we will be addressing it 10 years from now. It continues to be a highly dynamic epidemic.
To prepare for these unknown challenges, the ANAC reconfirms the openness to members of all disciplines as well as lay people, caregivers, and PLWH. Over the years, I have seen pharmacists, social workers, and physical therapists within our ranks. Our hope is that more disciplines will join. We need everyone's voice for a fuller vision, which includes lawyers, politicians, nursing home administrators, physicians, neurologists, gerontologists, statisticians, and many more (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018).
For those of us not trained as nurses, let us call ourselves Nurse Allies for the time being; we can be confident that we have something to contribute. Sometimes, we can make that contribution on our own, or within our own profession, but it may be more impactful and more fun to do it with others already going in the same direction.
As Hellen Keller said, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”
The author reports no financial interests or potential conflicts of interest.
Caiola C. E., Flores D. D. (2015). Deconstructing HIV-related stigma: A dialogue with a multidisciplinary group of experts. The Journal of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, 26(1), 4–11. doi: 10.1016/j.jana.2014.10.001
Polanco F. R., Dominguez D. C., Grady C., Stoll P., Ramos C., Mican J. M., Miranda-Acevedo R., Morgan M., Aizvera J., Purdie L., Koziol D., Rivera-Goba M. V. (2011). Conducting HIV research in racial and ethnic minority communities: building a successful interdisciplinary research team. The Journal of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, 22(5), 388–396. doi: 10.1016/j.jana.2010.10.008
Selleck C. S., Fifolt M., Burkart H., Frank J. S., Curry W., A., Hites L. S. (2017). Providing primary care using an interprofessional collaborative practice model: What clinicians have learned. Journal of Professional Nursing, 33, 410–417. doi:10.1106/j.profnurs.2016.11.004
Shirey M., White-Williams C., Hites L. (2019). Integration of authentic leadership lens for building high performing interprofessional collaborative practice teams. Nursing Administration Quarterly, 43(2), 101–112. doi: 10.1097/NAQ.0000000000000339
Toro P. L., Rabkin M., Flam R., El-Sadr W., Donahue M., Chadwick E., Abrams E. J. (2012). Training multidisciplinary teams to deliver high-quality HIV care to families in resource-limited settings: The MTCT-Plus initiative experience. The Journal of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, 23(6), 548–554. doi: 10.1016/j.jana.2011.12.007
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2018). Occupational employment and wages, May 2018 (29-1141 Registered Nurses). https://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/print.pl/oes/current/oes291141.htm
Vance D. E., Lee L., Muñoz-Moreno J., Morrison S., Overton T., Willig A., Fazeli P. L. (2019). Cognitive reserve over the lifespan: Neurocognitive implications for aging with HIV. The Journal of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, 30(5), e109–e121. doi:10.1097/JNC.0000000000000071