Professionals and Activists: Nursing Students for Choices

Professionals and Activists: Nursing Students for Choices

By Erika M. Staub RN, PHN and Jacqui R. Quetal RN, FNP

February 28, 2012

Nurses are trusted professionals, and the importance of being good listeners, great teachers and educated providers is stressed from the start. Because of the key role that nurses play in patient care, it’s no wonder that the idea of organizing nurses and nursing students around reproductive health and choice drew renewed attention in the past several years.

Although it’s well understood that nurses are advocates and educators for patients, how would nurses be able to improve sexual and reproductive care when we ourselves were not getting information in our nursing school curricula about condoms, birth control or abortion Where would we even look to find like-minded colleagues and students What helpful resources exist

These challenges led several of us to found Nursing Students for Choice. In 2005, on two distinctly different campuses almost 2,000 miles apart, nursing students began organizing their peers in order to demand comprehensive reproductive healthcare education and to break down the stigma of abortion at their schools. At Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland, OR, Jacqui Quetal, a Family Nurse Practitioner, was getting things going, while at Winona State University in the small, blue-collar town of Winona, MN, Becky McIntyre and Erika Staub (both Bachelor’s prepared Nurses), were also creating plans.

Colleagues suggested that we join forces and create a national organization. Through the help of many pro-choice groups, Nursing Students for Choice was founded, became a non-profit organization with a tax-exempt status and has continued to grow its membership.

Today Nursing Students for Choice is a national grassroots organization dedicated to advancing and securing reproductive health and justice. Recognizing that nurses are front line health care practitioners, we advocate for substantially increased reproductive health and abortion training for nurses, and organize a nationwide network of nursing student activists.

There are now 15 campus chapters of Nursing Students for Choice with several hundred members. NSfC helps 75 or more students each year go to conferences where they can learn about reproductive health topics that they may not find in their school curricula. We encourage nursing students to seek opportunities within their communities to become better trained, and are developing mentors as nursing students graduate and take roles as reproductive health care providers and preceptors.

To understand some of the complications in organizing, consider that nurses and Nurse Practitioners (NPs) work under a set of standards that dictates what a nurse can or cannot do. This is known as the “scope of practice,” and it varies from state to state.

For example, in some states, nurses can test for and treat STDs; in others, they can give pregnancy test results; and in yet others, they can serve as support staff during an abortion procedure. Under the scope of practice in some states, Nurse Practitioners are independent providers and have the ability to prescribe medications, diagnose illnesses and do certain procedures, such as placing IUDs. Yet, in other states Nurse Practitioners may require a “collaborating physician” to oversee their practice or co-sign prescriptions (even something simple, like antibiotics). In some states Nurse Practitioners can be abortion providers.

Just as states are divided by politics, so are nursing faculty and programs. By fighting for curriculum additions to help nursing students expand their knowledge and advance their practices, students are making their voices heard and are challenging faculty to reevaluate what is taught in the classroom.

NSfC members are striving for better standards for future nursing students, working hard to elicit real change. As we continue to grow, NSfC will increase its impact in the reproductive movement by activating a new force of excellent, knowledgeable and passionate pro-choice nurses.