Dan Suarez, MA, RN, already has goals set for when he assumes the presidency of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses next July.
The most recent convention in New Orleans showed Suarez how important it is to go beyond the typical convention boundaries. “One of the things I wanted to do was to leave a footprint behind in the community where we were holding the conference,” says Suarez. He arranged to have nurses volunteer with Stop Hunger Now, an international hunger relief agency, to package up meals for people who needed them. He hoped to have 50 nurses show up to package 10,000 meals in four hours. He ended up with nearly 80 volunteers who whipped through their task, packaging up 10,068 meals in two short hours.
“It was amazing to watch,” he says. “It was like an assembly line – they were pouring, stacking, packaging. It was a phenomenal event.” Suarez hopes, as president, that he can continue to take that kind of team building to a larger scale, connecting and invigorating all the chapters around the country.
While acting as the president of the association's New York chapter, Suarez worked hard to breathe new life into the chapter, trying different tactics to bring in new members and to discover what was most important to the nurses.
Mentorship is foremost in Suarez's plans. In his New York chapter, he saw many nurses who were dropping out of nursing school. “First we had to find out what was happening,” says Suarez. “The number one reason is financial and while we can't do anything about that, we can lead them to grants and scholarships.” Helping others with test taking skills was also important, but Suarez also realized nurses wanted to get into leadership roles, but didn't know exactly how to get there.
Suarez was talking with his family (both his wife and daughter are nurses) and they all said the same thing. “We need nurses in leadership roles because they make decisions,” says Suarez. “But I said you can't go from a staff nurse to a leader of a hospital. They expect you to be a leader, but they don't show you how.”
Suarez hopes to gain funding and other financial support to launch a nationwide Mentorship Academy to help nurses connect and learn from one another to advance their careers. With 38 national chapters, the undertaking is big, Suarez says, but obtaining grants can help each chapter implement the program.
Suarez also recognizes the importance of supporting the chapter presidents to help them make their own chapters thrive. “We want to give them the support they need because with support, we think we can help them and make them better because their hearts are in the right place.” Suarez says he would like to help the boards with the tools or education or whatever needs they might have to make their chapters grow. Even something as simple as relevant webinars that all chapter treasurers can take, for instance can make a difference.
“These are all the little things we feel will help,” he says.
And Suarez hopes the National Association of Hispanic Nurses will act as a trailblazer for other associations who want to make a great impression on the communities where they hold conferences. Not only do the conference attendees feel good because they have done something good for others, but they have also been able to reach out to the community that is supporting their gathering. “We need to start something that will catch fire with all the associations wherever they go,” he says. “Imagine if every association did that?”