By Marlena E. Bermel

The Role of the Nurse

2020 Nurses’ Week and Year of the Nurse

There's no doubt that with the current state of the world, nurses have been on the forefront of everyone's minds. Headlines, advertisements and social media have all highlighted the essential role nurses are playing in the COVID crisis.

But what is a nurse?


From the beginning, nurses have done more than meets the eye.

Florence Nightingale, known as the "Lady with the Lamp," is considered the founder of modern nursing. During the Crimean War she was put in charge of nursing British and allied soldiers in Turkey.

However, Nightingale was also one of the most prominent statisticians in history. She used applied statistical methods to make the case for eliminating practices that contributed to unsafe and unhealthy environments during the war. Her groundbreaking work, which continues to be influential to this day, saved lives.

She went on to found the first scientifically based nursing school - the Nightingale School of Nursing at St. Thomas' Hospital in London - in 1860. Nightingale was also the first woman to receive the Order of Merit, one of the highest honors bestowed by the British crown. May 12, 2020, will mark the 200th anniversary of her birth. Nurses' Week begins every year on May 6th and ends on her birthday.

Current Role

It's no surprise that healthy people equal a healthy workforce. The World Health Organization recognizes that no global health agenda can be achieved without maximizing the contributions of the nursing workforce, and earlier this year declared 2020 the Year of the Nurse and Midwife.

Nursing roles have expanded across the profession. They are caregivers, advocates, researchers and educators. You will find nurses not only at the bedside and in clinics but also in the classroom, in board rooms and in research labs. They are leaders advancing health care in private industry and across government.

Our Nurses

Amy Levi, PhD, RN, CNM, is the Albers Endowed Professor of Midwifery at The University of New Mexico College of Nursing. She is currently serving as vice chancellor for academic affairs of the UNM Health Sciences Center, where she oversees the offices of Faculty Contracts, Professionalism, Interprofessional Education, Registrar/Student Services, Student Loan and Debt Management, as well as providing academic support to the Health Sciences Rio Rancho campus. Her team also supports the UNM Health Sciences Faculty and Student Councils.

Mary Pat Couig, PhD, MPH, RN, associate professor in the College of Nursing, is helping to pair volunteers from across the Health Sciences Center with opportunities to help. She also joined two other nursing experts in publishing a battle plan on the American Journal of Nursing website for nurses to take aggressive steps to protect patients, colleagues and themselves from the coronavirus. These include implementing crisis staffing contingency plans, expanding the workforce as quickly as possible and following stringent infection prevention protocols.

Barbara Damron, PhD, RN, is an associate professor for The University of New Mexico College of Nursing and the university's chief government relations officer. Prior to that, she served for four years as the state's cabinet secretary of higher education. Damron is coordinating with New Mexico's congressional delegation, state legislators, and county and city leaders on COVID-19 issues.

Elizabeth Dickson, PhD, RN, is an assistant professor with the College of Nursing research team. As a career public health nurse, she has worked with federal, state and local public health agencies, including the New Mexico Department of Health and the Indian Health Service and recently testified before the New Mexico Legislature on adolescent health. Her research includes topics such as adolescent health, school health and education, health policy, public health and community-based participatory research.

Felina Ortiz, DNP, CNM, is an assistant professor and a nurse-midwife in the College of Nursing. She specializes in working with culturally diverse families and is an advocate for marginalized populations. She believes in holistic, traditional care and brings this into her practice at El Pueblo Health Services in Bernalillo, N.M. Ortiz was recently appointed chair of the American College of Nurse-Midwives National Midwives of Color committee, which recruits and supports the advancement of persons of diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds to the profession of midwifery on a national stage.

During Nurses' Week the College of Nursing would like to show our great appreciate to all nurses and the vital role they play. While many have recognized them during the current state of affairs, it is no secret to us just how important they are in keeping the world safe and advancing us forward towards "Health for All."