By Kayleen Schenk

Powerful Voices: UNM Nursing Students at NM Legislative Session

In the dynamic landscape of health care, the significance of nursing professionals cannot be overstated. As the backbone of the health care system, nurses play a pivotal role in patient care and advocacy. However, their impact extends beyond the hospital walls and into the realm of policymaking and patient advocacy. This fact led many Bachelors of Science in Nursing students and two PhD students from The University of New Mexico College of Nursing to the 2024 State Legislative Session in Santa Fe this January. Their takeaways? That nurses have a powerful voice in the treatment and advocacy of their patients.   

April Tafoya, DNP, RN, NC-BC, BSN level one coordinator and College of Nursing lecturer accompanied her students and witnessed their horizons expand as they experienced another side of nursing.

Tafoya says, “so many health care professionals are all assembled in the capitol for a very stimulating setting. The students walked into a very advanced world where they sat alongside white coat doctors, learned about joining career advancing nursing groups and heard policy development.” 

Barbara Damron, PhD, MSN, RN, FAAN, professor and senior advisor to the dean of the College of Nursing is an active steward of health care policy and legislation and was accompanied by College of Nursing PhD students, Kimberly Spray and Sandra Cardenas. Her students are currently taking an independent study course and are learning about New Mexico’s state budget process – both from the legislative and executive branches’ perspectives.

Damron says, “legislative sessions serve as the crucible where health care policies and budgets are conceived, debated, and ultimately brought to life. Nursing students attending these sessions are afforded a rare chance to witness the birth of change that will shape the future of health care in New Mexico.”

Whether it was the political mingling inside the Roundhouse galleries or hearing testimonies from health care professionals at the breakfast conference, these students gained an impactful experience that will shape their ongoing nursing education. 

Camille Toya, BSN student, UNM College of Nursing

Toya is studying nursing to expand her knowledge on how to provide compassionate health care. As a mother, she wants to set a positive example to her daughter by making a difference in the lives of her future patients. 

At the capitol I learned about the legislative perspective of nursing, like bills that support nursing schools and other nursing practices. Many professionals also spoke about various aspects developing in nursing practice to be aware of like AI technology and how to advocate for our patients alongside evolving health care technology.

Camille Toya, BSN student, UNM College of Nursing

Timothy Cao, BSN Nursing student, UNM College of Nursing

Cao calls himself a “UNM baby,” siting that he was born at UNM Hospital, and it was where he received his first job as a scrub tech. Originally interested in becoming a doctor, his early professional experiences in combination with impactful encounters like those at legislative session have cemented his resolve to become a nurse.

Health care workers are all important. But I’ve realized that nurses develop strong relationships with their patients, which is a big part of full circle treatment and care.

Timothy Cao, BSN Nursing student, UNM College of Nursing

Julianna Wood, BSN Nursing student, UNM College of Nursing

Wood comes from a large family. She has always known she wanted to care for others, and as one of seven children, she has been able to foster a joy for being a provider and leader. Her time in the capitol showed her just how trusted nurses are and the importance of lifelong learning.

Nursing seems to be the number one trusted profession and that comes with great honor. I learned that there is a grand amount of responsibility that makes the profession powerful and necessitates always learning the best practices and news.

Julianna Wood, BSN Nursing student, UNM College of Nursing

Kimberly Spray, PhD student, UNM College of Nursing

Spray moved to New Mexico in 1996 and has worked all over the state as an emergency nurse. She decided to follow a PhD path to improve nursing care globally. Her passion is global health and she firmly believes nurses can make a significant impact in that regard.

Attending the legislative session was an invaluable experience. I witnessed how legislation works and the creation of future policy. We met many people and were able to spend time on the senate floor with state politicians.

Kimberly Spray, PhD student, UNM College of Nursing

Sandra Cardenas, PhD student, UNM College of Nursing

Cardenas relocated to New Mexico in 2019. She is pursuing a PhD in nursing because she wants to be a part of improving health outcome for Hispanic immigrants. She is particularly interested in examining the relationship between hypertension and blood pressure in Hispanic patients. 

Throughout this experience I learned how impactful policy change can be. I observed that by having diverse committees and constructive and effective policies, bills with the mindset of improving the lives of New Mexicans can pass. New Mexico is rich in history and culture and I loved being in that atmosphere and hope to assist in bettering our state.

Sandra Cardenas, PhD student, UNM College of Nursin

New Mexico grapples with evolving health care challenges that demand thoughtful and informed nurses who respect the legislative side of nursing. The College’s nursing students, by actively participating in legislative sessions, gain valuable insight into the intricacies of health care policy making and witness the direct impact they can have on the care and health of the communities they serve and call home. 

Categories: College of Nursing, Community Engagement, Top Stories