York’s presence at nursing association’s AGM larger than ever

York University was well-represented at this year’s annual general meeting of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) held April 19-21. Approximately 70 students from the School of Nursing in York’s Faculty of Health, along with a group of faculty members, attended the AGM in Markham.

“It was probably the largest number of students from any institution,” says Sue Coffey, coordinator of the Post-RN BScN for Internationally Educated Nurses (IEN) program in York’s School of Nursing. This was the third year that the York group has attended, and, every year, the University’s contingent has been getting bigger, says Coffey.

More than 600 registered nurses and nursing students attended the AGM of the professional association that represents nurses’ concerns and works to shape and influence health policy in the province.

The York students participated in various sessions. Seven of them (Dana Lang, Fareeda Mohamed, Xavier Debrah-Grant, Elizaveta Eremenco, Fenny You, Lisa Hazel and Davina Wong) also had the privilege of taking part in the opening-ceremony procession along with honoured RNAO members, including past association presidents.

Right: York School of Nursing students with Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty (centre)

During the week preceding the AGM, students Dana Lang and Elizaveta Eremenco, both in the IEN program, took part in RNAO meetings where they shared their opinions and experiences at York with RNAO board members.

At the AGM, a group of York nursing students met and talked with Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty after he delivered a speech. All major political parties in Ontario – the NDP, Conservatives and Liberals – were represented at the AGM, says Coffey.

“The RNAO is a very powerful professional voice. They have the ear of the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and the Premier’s Office because they speak for the profession,” says Lesley Beagrie, director of York’s School of Nursing.

By attending the AGM, students “see that change is possible when you work as a collective,” says Beagrie, and “how nurses at the grassroots level can make a difference by making changes to policy.”

Beagrie says that an awareness of the role that nurses can play is particularly significant for students in the IEN program. “For them to see that nurses actually have a voice is phenomenal because in their own countries they had never experienced that possibility,” she says.

Offered by York since March 2005, the IEN program enables nurses who have immigrated to Canada to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BScN) degree in just 20 months, making them eligible to write the Canadian Registered Nurses Exam and seek work in their chosen profession in the Ontario Healthcare System. Money for the IEN program currently comes from the provincial government. For this reason, Beagrie says she was pleased that McGuinty met some of the individuals being supported through the government program.

Charles Anyinam, undergraduate program director of two other School of Nursing programs, the Post-RN & the Second Degree Entry programs, was among York faculty members who attended the AGM. “It really helps students to see that they are in a profession that matters and that is making a difference," says Anyinam. "It helps them to realize that they are part of something that is quite unique and special, and it helps them to feel more connected once they graduate.”

Story by Olena Wawryshyn, York communications officer.