Grace Yang, RN, Harborview, was recently appointed to a two-year term as Secretary-Treasurer on the board for the Washington Center for Nursing (WCN), a coalition of nursing organizations including our union, nursing executives, staff nurses, and nursing educators. SEIU Healthcare 1199NW President Diane Sosne, RN, MN also serves on the WCN Board.
The Washington Center for Nursing was created during the Nursing Summit in 2001. The WCN has worked on variety of nursing projects, including the Master Plan for Nursing Education and the organization of regional stakeholder meetings on the Nurse of the Future. Diversity and inclusion, nursing education, and addressing the nursing shortage are current focuses for the Board.
With an aging population, aging caregiver workforce, and about 300,000 additional individuals who are eligible for care under healthcare reform, Washington’s nursing shortage is expected to worsen. Board members including Grace are working to address the nursing shortage by diversifying our workforce, mentoring new nurses, and engaging younger students to consider nursing careers.
“Right now the average age of a nurse in Washington is 48, so increasing our pool of nurses is a huge need that the Center is working to address,” Grace said. “We also work on data collection and watch the shift in our workforce, which puts the pressure on all of us to feed the supply of nurses we need.”
Grace notes that in addressing the workplace shortage we must pay attention to needs on the full spectrum of nursing, from finding the right nursing educators to assessing challenges for new nurses.
“One of our biggest bottlenecks is finding qualified people to teach nurses, especially when teaching pay isn’t as much as remaining in frontline care. It can be up to a 50% pay cut. We have so many nursing student applicants, more than can be accepted. You have to ask, where are we putting our priorities? We need to look long term with education and help resolve that access problem. SEIU’s multi-employer training fund helps address this issue and meet students where their challenges are, creating a pipeline in our hospitals for the existing workforce to move up.”
WCN also works on mentoring new nurses and engaging younger students.
“We need to attract diverse nurses to the field and address their specific challenges, whether it’s funding, balance with family, access to education. Our online mentorship program for new nurses of color helps meet the needs of new nurses by determining what to prioritize. It’s easy to be overwhelmed with the tasks of nursing and we help mentor to look at the bigger picture,” said Grace.
The WCN mentoring program aims to engage a more diverse workforce by addressing nursing challenges early in careers, like answering questions about being a student nurse, listening to stressors and successes of clinical or work experience, providing advice about balancing responsibilities between home and work, advising on the job search process, and giving tips on job interviews.
Advancing our nursing profession also needs to include our current workforce, who often bring decades of experience and community connections.
Grace and the WCN Board engage nurses to seek leadership positions in our communities, whether on business boards, school boards, councils, and advisory panels.
“Nurses are trusted. When we advocate for something it’s for a good reason. If we’re saying there aren’t enough nurses for the future of our state or our patients aren’t getting the care they need, then people listen. But if nurses aren’t at the meetings or on the Boards someone else will be making the decisions, whether it’s big pharmacy, big insurance, doctors or physicians. That’s why it’s so important for our profession to step up and be leaders. That’s a key goal for both WCN and SEIU, to have a voice in every step of our community and elected processes so we have frontline experts making decisions locally, at the state, and at federal levels,” Grace said.
In addition to her work on the WCN Board, Grace has been using her voice as a member of our union and Executive Board to make a difference in the nursing profession and healthcare for nearly fifteen years.
“As nurses our work is caring for patients, but we also must care for those who care. I tell other nurses why I became active – I wanted to know what our union did, what WCN was all about. I wanted to be part of the decision making and have the most information on what I can do to make my nursing profession, my workplace, my patient care environment better. We see things that aren’t right. We’re working short. I can’t provide the care I was taught to provide. So how do we resolve that? That’s why I’m active in our union and WCN. We have a voice in our workplace and a role in changing our professions and speaking out for patients. It can start in small ways and move to big things.”