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Dr. Sharon Mailey

Mailey named Advocate of the Year

maileyDr. Sharon Mailey, professor of nursing education and chair of the Department of Nursing Education, received the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) Advocate of the Year Award on March 20 during the organization’s annual spring meeting. The award is given each year to a member who has done a good job promoting AACN’s priorities in Congress.

Mailey serves as West Virginia’s grassroots liaison and organizes visits with members of Congress twice a year for nursing school deans and directors from across the state. Mailey said AACN believes that nurses make their own best advocates, and the goal is to raise the voice of nursing education from the grassroots level.

“Things happen through federal funding and the financing of it through the legislative process,” Mailey said. “When we look at the Affordable Care Act, it was a legislative process and still is. When we look at federal funding for our nurse practice in terms of Title VIII, which offers federal grants to states for nursing education, it comes from the Capitol. When we look at additional funding for the National Institute of Nursing Research, we have to look at the federal budget and see how those dollars are allocated.

Mailey said AACN recognizes that educated, knowledgeable outside experts are essential in the advancement of sound policy because of the heavy workload and limited staffs of most Congressional offices.

“By going to the hill, we advocate for the profession and we advocate for quality patient care,” she said. “In order to have the needs of nursing education and practice funded, it is critical that nurses be advocates and have their voices heard in Congress. It’s essential that nurses engage.”

Mailey, who finds visiting Capitol Hill energizing, said one of her goals is to encourage the strengthening of the federal investment in nursing education, research, and practice and to involve Shepherd students in that effort. The nursing department sends senior students to Capitol Hill every spring and fall. Forty-five will visit with members of Congress this month.

“They’ll have the opportunity to meet with their member of Congress and discuss a health issue that they have passion about,” Mailey said. “We need to mentor the next generation to become advocates in order to continue the change process and improve access and quality care for those whom we serve.”

Mailey also represented AACN when President Obama visited Charleston in October 2015 to highlight the state’s opioid problem.

“Because of our efforts to bring change, President Obama has added additional funding in the next budget year and the CDC has come up with new standards,” Mailey said. “The way to make those changes occur is to visit your member of Congress and emphasize that resources need to be allocated for things like this.”

In a letter notifying Mailey of the award, Dr. Eileen Breslin, AACN board chair, said, “Your rapport with your legislators is highly esteemed. Your responsiveness to our Action Alerts was among the highest in 2015. Your passion for nursing advocacy serves as an inspiring example for other AACN members.”