Advocating Tirelessly for the Needs of Nurses Nationwide
By Lisa Arbetter
Eileen Sullivan-Marx’s lifetime of work in nursing, combined with her current roles as the dean of the Rory Meyers College of Nursing and president of the American Academy of Nursing (AAN), have converged, making her the ideal person to take a leadership role in a pandemic. “Everything now is through the lens of public health,” she says. “For me, that’s a very comfortable place to be. I have been focused on community and public health nursing throughout my career. It has all come together in a way that I can contribute with confidence, expertise, and a sense of authority.”
And contribute she has. Since the pandemic began, Sullivan-Marx has done dozens of interviews, advocating for nurses and educating the public. Meyers donated thousands of pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) to NYU Langone, and on behalf of the university she worked with New York City to help find housing for out-of-state healthcare workers. She has also advised policymakers, offering support for a bill that would forgive student loans for frontline healthcare workers and making recommendations to Congress on ways to address the crisis.
As dean, one of the biggest challenges she has faced during this pandemic was figuring out how to allow the hundreds of master’s degree students who were already practicing full-time and were desperately needed on the front lines to graduate on time. “We’ve done a very good job of that by using remote opportunities, by adjusting the ways that we measure their competencies,” says Sullivan-Marx, “and at the same time, making sure that all the boxes were checked so that they could immediately move to their advanced practice jobs.”
Even before the coronavirus outbreak, the need for public health nursing topped the agenda for her two-year stint as AAN president. She believes having more nurses involved in making public health policy and a corps of nurses embedded in their communities would improve the health of underserved populations as well as relieve the police of some of the social work duties that they aren’t trained to handle. “Public health nursing is looking at a population and making sure that you’re addressing social justice issues and equity and access to services,” she says. “There used to be social work nurses who were in the community dealing with mental health issues.”
Sullivan-Marx knew at age 12 that she’d be a nurse. As she recalls: “It always seemed to me that these were women, and now many men, who were contributing, who were leaders, who were accountable.”