NP Pioneers--Celebrating 50 Years of Role Development

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NP Pioneers--Celebrating 50 Years of Role Development

Ann O'Sullivan, PhD, FAAN, CRN


I hold the Dr. Hildegarde Reynolds Endowed Professor of Primary Care Nursing and am in the 42nd year on the faculty of the School of Nursing and School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

Outstanding experiences and opportunities began for me in 1972, right after delivering my only son, Chuck, when I was appointed by Dean Mereness and Martha Lamberton to lead the pediatric portion of the family nurse clinician program. I collaborated with a physician colleague, pediatric neonatologist Paul Branca, to develop the curriculum and co-teach the classes for 15 weeks; including assigning 240 hours of clinical precepting for each student by many community pediatricians.

In 1977, I was chosen as 1 of the first cohort Robert Wood Johnson (RWJ) Primary Care Fellows to study in Baltimore, with nurse educator Maureen McGuire and physician preceptor Catherine DeAngelis. What a fabulous way to become a pediatric nurse practitioner! On my return I practiced in several Children's Hospital Of Philadelphia settings until falling in love with working with teen parents and their infants. In 1984, I finished my PhD in educational-anthropology and administration with a study of "How teen parents decide to go back to school after having a baby." I was so lucky to be partners with a physician RWJ Clinical Scholar Donald F. Schwarz, who practiced and conducted research (over 6 million in funding) with me for 25 years. Oh, what we learned about each other and our teen parent families!

In 1983, as a visual learner I had the opportunity to shadow and be mentored by Dean Claire Fagin and President Judith Rodin for an independent study on leadership. From this experience I learned being a dean or president was not for me, but maybe a leader in the policy arena. So after another fellowship, in 1998, first cohort of Executive Nurse Fellows of RWJ, I asked for a governor appointment to the Pennsylvania State Board of Nursing and was appointed in 2004 while president of NONPF. Working on the Consensus Model from 2001–2003 as NONPF president-elect, then 2004–2006 as NONPF president, 2008–2012 as the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) APRN Committee Chair, and 2012–2015 as NCSBN Board Member allowed me the opportunity to be 1 of over 20 representatives seeing an education, accreditation, certification, and legislative model take hold in our country regarding APRNs at long last!

Working with Dr. Lucy Marion and Kitty Werner while at NONPF (2002–2003) on the doctor of nursing practice (DNP) competences was key to my understanding the important place of the practice doctorate in relation to the research focus of the PhD. Health care systems demand higher levels of knowledge, critical thinking, change agency, and leadership skills from APRNs.

One thing I continue to reflect on is leadership starts from within so one must "know oneself" so one can better know one's clients, students, and colleagues and know how hard it is to change. This has led to a new project in 2014–15. Our students will be assessing their emotional intelligence and their view of patient self-management over 12 months. Hopefully, using emotional intelligence learning, we all improve on self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship management, and patient support for self-management. Our clients (patients or students) need support to be independent actors.

Now I continue to practice as a pediatric NP at CHOP, teach with a wonderful team of faculty the best and brightest students to become PNPs and FNPs, participate on the PASBON and NCSBN boards, and educate legislators on the importance of full practice authority for all APRNs.

I still believe NPs and physicians may help patients best by working in tandem, but this does not mean having an influence over each other's license to practice! We all have a unique and personal kaleidoscope of values that helps us to be successful in our personal and professional lives. Success involves maintaining balance in the various aspects of life that bring happiness and a sense of fulfillment (eg, grandparenting, theatre, jazz, teaching) over one's lifetime. Balance all the beautiful pieces in your personal kaleidoscopes and recognize that you do not need to give up one piece to have the others!

Bio: Dr. O'Sullivan is a nationally known and an internationally consulted expert on working with teen mothers and their young children. Her work was recognized with the receipt of the 1998 American Nurses Association Honorary Practice Award. She has attained a reputation as a teacher of impact and lasting influence that is attested to by both students and colleagues. She was recognized by the university as a distinguished teacher through her selection as a Lindback Awardee in 2000.

Her other professional accomplishments include being past president of the Penn School of Nursing Alumni Association; appointed to the Pennsylvania State Board of Nursing (2004 to 2016) and elected to National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCBSN) 2012–2015. She received the Lifetime Achievement Award from NONPF and the Meritorious service Award from NCSBN.

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