Strong Woman

As we begin 2017, we welcome new beginnings and reflect on the past. It’s a time to reflect on those who have made a difference in your life. I would like you to consider yet another new years’ resolution: To be a strong woman, a role model and a mentor and to acknowledge those who have influenced our lives.

Do you know any “strong women” that have influenced your life? Over the 36 years that I have been a nurse practitioner, I have encountered many amazingly strong women. There are many ways to demonstrate strength. Some demonstrate strength in the multi-tasking of being a home-maker, raising a family, running a household, being a room-mother/volunteer, possibly even balancing a career while trying to maintain health by daily exercising and cooking healthy (which in and of itself takes some added effort). Some demonstrate strength as professional women organizing meetings, coordinating schedules, chairing meetings, running large corporations, running for political offices, teaching others, guiding or caring for others, etc. Others show strength in their ability to communicate thoughtfully, to overcome many obstacles physically and emotionally, or to be strong for those in need of support. All are admirable forms of strength.

Over the years I have been blessed with many strong role models. Last fall I was fortunate to meet a woman who influenced my life, as well as many other’s. I was attending a national Nurse Practitioner conference and Dr. Loretta Ford, RN, PhD, was our keynote speaker. Dr. Ford was the first nurse practitioner in the United States back in the early 1970s. Back in the 60-70s in the US, women really did not work outside the home and were not encouraged to get out into the work world, even with an education, especially when raising a family. It was a time when the majority of nurses worked in hospital settings and followed “doctors orders”, having little to no autonomy in providing nursing care. Dr. Ford was the exception…

Loretta Ford was teaching nursing at the University of Colorado in those years (which in itself required courageous independence) when she identified a need for nurses to “expand” their role.  She identified that the role of the RN in public health nursing could be vital to improving the health and wellness of children/families. She believed that nurses were educated and capable of providing well-child care, especially noting the need in under-served populations lacking medical care. She was a rebel. She was a pioneer in her time…she was a strong woman who fought the medical profession for the commitment that she believed in. Dr. Henry Silverman was the physician who supported her ideals and dreams for better health care, provided by qualified nurses-not solely by physicians. They felt it was the beginning of true collaboration and teamwork between physicians, nurses, and other health care providers. This care optimized each other’s expertise that would ultimately be the best way to provide health care to patients. Against odds, they proved it could be done, paving the way for many other collaborative practices and advanced practice nurses in the United States. Loretta Ford went on to become Dr. Loretta Ford, a Registered Nurse with a Doctoral Degree in Nursing, again becoming one of the first in the United States.

I had the privilege of meeting Loretta, and thanking her for the courage it took to be a pioneer. Back in the early 80s, I, too, felt a “yearning” to expand the role of the nurse in the central Illinois area and was offered the opportunity to enroll in one of the first Family Nurse Practitioner programs at the University of Illinois. At times, it felt like an uphill battle defending this new role in nursing as well as carving out where this role could fit into health care. Without Dr. Ford’s courage, determination, and dedication to her belief and proof that nurses could assume the responsibility as primary care providers, it would still remain but a dream. We pursued, we planned, we marketed, we compromised…and gradually, we came to be an integral part of the team by the 90s, accepted, even appreciated, by physicians and patients for the important role we could serve in health care. I later found out that she is 97 years young and still sharing her words of wisdom and encouragement to others. Her strength gave others and myself the ability to “take a risk” and “step outside the box” in a new role for nurses. Dr. Ford told me that she believed nurses could be great patient advocates and providers of prevention, restoration, and health promotion in the care of children and families. She was right. She gave others the gift of courage to take a risk…. It has been a rewarding journey. She is a perfect example of “keep going, don’t give up” and keep pursuing your dreams. If you know someone like this, tell him or her what they have meant to your life. Be like them.

I also wish to acknowledge two other strong women and special friends of mine – Dr. Bonnie Cox, RN, PhD and Dr. Margo Tennis, RN, PhD. I met both women when we were chosen to be part of the NP program at University of Illinois in 1978. Dr. Cox, one of the first NPs who traveled to Chicago to obtain her PhD as a Nurse Midwife (very rare to be a nurse with a Doctorate degree in the 80s), bringing nurse midwifery, Lamaze, and “fathers in the delivery room” to Peoria. And Dr. Tennis, a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, and one of the first to provide primary care as a nurse in the OSF Community Clinic. Both impacted health care in the Peoria area. Strong women. Strong mentors for others.

Those of you reading this article also share with me the appreciation for another strong professional woman who has influenced lives and continues to be a role model and advocate for women in central Illinois: Dr. Michele Couri. Dr. Couri is a multi-tasking mother of six. She is also a professional woman who seeks to continually “expand her horizons” and improve the patient care we provide to women. She has the courage to bring new ideas, treatments, and therapies to women. The Peoria area is fortunate to have Dr. Couri. She has also expanded her women’s health practice by implementing the “team approach” and continues to support the role started by Dr. Loretta Ford, as she collaborates with 3 APNs and two Physician Assistants, believing and trusting in our ability to provide quality health care utilizing this team approach.

Lastly, I would like to end with appreciation for probably the most influential and strongest woman in my life…my own mother. Norma Bush is 91 years young. She is the epitome of gentle strength. She lived her life selflessly giving to her family and friends. My mother found herself single in her late 50s. As I look back on her optimism and strength as she went forward into her senior years, not looking back with regrets, but forward with a positive attitude, I think how amazing she is. As a child, I didn’t appreciate enough the impact she made in her hometown in the late 1950s when she opened the first preschool in the area, “Kiddy College.” Mom was a teacher and wanted to stay home with her children, so she decided to open her own business. Mom still maintains many friendships from grade school, high school, college, and from her careers over the years. She lives in her own home and still pursues her exercise water classes three times per week. She has always been and continues to be the kindest, strongest woman I have been blessed to have in my life.

It is my privilege to know these professional women, to have practiced as an APN, and to continue to support strong women in the 21st century. I encourage you to be strong, to raise strong young women and men, to mentor others and thank those influential in your life. You never know the lives you are touching and influencing, just by being who you are.   May you have a wonderful, healthy, fulfilling 2017!

Terry Polanin, MSN, APN