Research Rooted in Advocacy

Emily Jones, BSN, PhD, RNC-OB received PCNA’s Advocacy Award for CVD Prevention in 2019. Here, she recounts her advocacy experiences.

Nurses advocate in myriad ways, seen and unseen. We advocate for individual patients, families, communities, groups with diverse health needs, and society’s most vulnerable and marginalized. We advocate in clinics for the best plans of care. We advocate in communities for social justice and health equity. Our desire to support those for whom we care and promote their highest well-being is what keeps us learning, growing, and developing as human beings and nurses.

I am extremely honored to have received the 2019 PCNA Advocacy Award. My nursing career centers on advocacy for childbearing American Indian women’s cardiometabolic health, and it began in the labor and delivery unit of a community hospital. I witnessed firsthand the gap that existed between women’s obstetrical care and their primary or, as I like to call it, “rest of life” care, including prevention of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. The gap was particularly apparent for women with pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes and hypertensive disorders. It was this lack of patient-centered, preventive follow-up care after pregnancy that prompted me to pursue my PhD and set a course to bridge that gap through research and practice.

During and after my doctoral coursework, I learned the value of listening to the stories of individuals with lived experiences very different than my own, and my eyes opened to the reality of health disparities. Further, my mind opened to the possibility that I could collaborate with community partners as a nurse scientist to conduct research that would ultimately promote health equity for childbearing American Indian women (and their children and families) with significant cardiometabolic risk. I realized that a community-engaged and driven research career would be a vessel to advocate for policies at all levels to promote health equity for American Indian women. Ultimately, I realized that my research, rooted in advocacy, would be my practice.

As a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholar (2014-2017), I received formal advocacy training in Washington D.C., and that experience boosted my confidence in reaching out to legislative staff and elected officials to voice concern and raise awareness around policies that impact women’s health. In 2018, I was invited to participate in a convening of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and WomenHeart, the first and only national, patient-centered organization dedicated to serving women with heart disease. I attended as one of several researchers to represent partnerships with tribal communities focused on promoting indigenous women’s cardiovascular health through research. I was profoundly grateful as I listened to elder Native American women tell stories that reminded me why I advocate – women’s hearts are sacred. They are the source of life and goodness in their families and communities.

I am currently involved in advocacy at the state level through the Diabetes Caucus of the Oklahoma State House of Representatives. Caucus members advocate for a variety of policies concerning diabetes care; I work with a subgroup that advocates for increased access and reimbursement for diabetes prevention programs and Medicaid expansion, particularly for high risk groups such as postpartum women following gestational diabetes. I started attending the monthly Caucus meetings because my community partner co-investigator invited me to join her. This underscores one of my favorite aspects of advocacy – the process and results are optimized when we work in teams. If you have never personally been involved in advocacy-related work, reach out to a friend or colleague who is and join them in attending a policy-planning meeting or legislative visit. Get engaged. Listen. Ask questions. Offer your expertise. Use your voice. And then invite another nurse to join you.

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