Voices for Change: AANP Celebrates 25 Years

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Picture it: Kansas City, 1984. At a meeting sponsored by the American Nurses Association (ANA), conversation among the NP attendees from across the United States focuses on the widely perceived need for “common representation” of their distinct interests. Who among the existing nursing organizations has the time, money, and/or inclination to serve as the voice of all NPs, providing a conduit for communication and leadership in legislative efforts to remove barriers to practice?

As it will turn out, the answer is no one—at least, not in the way these NPs envision. So they ­decide to do something about that … and since the result of their collaborative vision is the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), you have a pretty good idea how it worked out.

AANP is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year—a milestone its founders probably never doubted would be reached, although others initially questioned the viability of such an organization.

“The feeling was that if it was needed, it would grow, and if it wasn’t needed, it wouldn’t grow,” recalls Jan Towers, PhD, NP-C, CRNP, FAANP, a founding member and past president who continues to serve AANP as Director of Health Policy. “And indeed it grew—so I think we know what our answer was!”

Of course, creating a new professional organization was not as simple as a group of individuals putting their heads together. And yet, in a certain sense, it was that easy.

Shortly after those initial discussions in Kansas City, there was another conference in Washington, DC. During a panel discussion with executives from the insurance and advertising industries, it became evident that the biggest issue for NPs was “no one knew who we were,” says Clinician Reviews NP Editor-in-Chief Marie-Eileen Onieal, PhD, CPNP, FAANP, also a founder and past president of AANP. Clearly, that situation needed to be remedied—but how?

At that time, many NPs were members of ANA (and, it should be noted, many still are). However, since ANA represents all of nursing, the bulk of its resources could not be devoted to NPs. The organization had created a Council of Primary Care NPs in 1974, but the “renegade” NPs of 1984 felt that structure didn’t provide the latitude they wanted in their representation.

“We needed a way to really work together and have our ­undivided attention focused on NP issues,” Towers says. Onieal adds, “We weren’t abandoning our ‘nursing-ness,’ but clearly we had separate and distinctly different issues at hand than did the general populace of the nursing profession.”

The fact that NPs from across the country—remember, this is pre-Internet—shared this viewpoint added strength to the argument. If dozens of people who didn’t really know one another could see the same need, it must be real—and therefore, it had to be addressed.

“The [NP] role had been around since 1965, but nursing faculty were just beginning to define what NP education ought to look like,” says Carole Kain, DNS, ARNP, PNP-BC, a founding member and the first president of AANP. (She was Carole Kerwin then.) “A lot of things were changing in the profession, and we all wanted to be part of defining what that change meant. It was everybody coming together with a skill set that set us on this course.”

The time was certainly ripe. In her files, Kain still has a copy of a document discussing a referendum the American Medical Association passed in 1984, in which “they said they were actually going to try to inhibit the practice of NPs, PAs, nurse-midwives, and pharmacists, as to prescribing and taking care of patients.”

In addition to that restrictive attitude—a cause to rally around for NPs nationwide—the NP profession had reached a tipping point in terms of growth. “Enough of us had been prepared, but we were still small enough to be spread out [across the country],” Towers says. “We needed some way to connect.”

By the time they left Washington, DC, a steering committee had been formed to explore the need for an organization representing the nation’s approximately 24,000 NPs. They were expected to report back to the ANA one year later, at a meeting in Chicago. And so, the hard work began.

For a group of virtual strangers who had never started an organization before, they went about their business in a methodical and logical way. Different task forces were created, including one to look into how to do articles of incorporation and other “legalese” pieces, and another to develop a list of reasons why a separate organization was needed.

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