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Trailblazing A New Path For Nurses

June 7th, 2007  |  Following the Leaders

abrams.jpgRetired Maryland State Senator Rosalie Silber Abrams tells nurses that, collectively, we hold enormous power in the political arena, but because most nurses feel their voices aren’t being heard, they choose not to become involved in politics. Rosalie, a nurse, social reformer, and advocate for the nursing profession knows better. As the first woman in Maryland to chair the Maryland Democratic Party and to hold the position of Senate Majority Leader, Rosalie is a trailblazer, proving that nurses hold the power to create social change.

Rosalie started her political career in 1967, during a time when politics were strictly a good-old-boy operation and when a woman’s place was in the home, not in the State House. She said that she knew that her male colleagues accepted her as a peer when one of them told her, “You know, when you get up to speak, we forget you are a woman.” Rosalie said that her nursing career helped prepare her for public service. “When I was a nurse, I saw a lot of things that weren’t right. Women, the mentally ill, and the elderly had few rights, and I wanted to correct some problems that I saw.”

Rosalie energetically represented nursing in Annapolis, Maryland for seventeen years, and during her prolific political career, she oversaw the passage of nearly 300 bills, many of which directly impacted Maryland’s healthcare system and the nursing profession. As the author of legislation creating Maryland’s Health Services Cost Review Commission, Rosalie created a national model for healthcare reform and cost containment. The Commission sets hospital rates within the state and has been credited for keeping Maryland’s hospital fees among the lowest in the nation. The Commission also created the all payer system for hospitals, which ensures that no one in Maryland can be refused hospital treatment. Some of her many other accomplishments include paving the way for third party reimbursement for nurse practitioners and reforming Maryland’s Mental Health Code. Rosalie was a member of the House of Delegates from 1967-1970 where she served most notably on the Joint Committee on Medicaid Legislation; Health and Welfare Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee. She became a member of the State Senate from 1970-1984, serving as a member of the Budget and Taxation Committee from 1971-1982, and Chair of the Finance Committee from 1983-1984. Rosalie was the first woman to hold the position of Senate Majority Leader and Chair the Maryland Democratic Party. She was also the first woman to Chair the Maryland’s Senate Finance Committee. After leaving the State Senate, Rosalie continued her public service by serving as the Director of the Maryland Office on Aging until her retirement in 1996. Rosalie remains active in many civic organizations, promoting the welfare of others, and professional organizations including the Maryland Nurses Association.

One of Rosalie’s most valuable contributions to nursing involved her work in defining our profession. When she was first elected to the Maryland House of Delegates, she started working to revise the Maryland Nurse Practice Act, which today, serves as a model for other states. She also worked to elevate nursing as a profession and advocated for increased wages and improved working conditions for nurses. During her life, she has received numerous awards and commendations for her work. For her work in the field of nursing, Rosalie was inducted into Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing. The honorary stature in conferred on those who demonstrate a special commitment to the ideals and concerns of the nursing profession. The Maryland Nurses Association also honored her by creating the Rosalie Silber Abrams Award, which is given to an individual who makes significant contributions on behalf of nursing in the legislative arena.

Rosalie is a great nursing leader because she helped nursing find its voice in the political arena by teaching nurses how to lobby and fight for our ideals. She leads by example and shows nurses that we truly have the power to impact our patients’ lives.

Photograph by Joan Roth from Jewish Women’s Archive.

Terri Polick
About Terri Polick
Terri Polick has been a nurse for thirty years, and is a published author living in Maryland, just outside of Washington, D.C. She is currently working as a freelance writer, and is a frequent contributor to Nursing Spectrum Magazine. Terri works at a local community hospital as a psychiatric nurse.

3 Responses to “Trailblazing A New Path For Nurses”

  • Runs With Scissors said on June 7th, 2007 at 6:57 pm

    I see that you mentioned STTI and the Maryland Nurses Assn. I belong to STTI, NLN, and ANA. National organizations and their state and local counterparts represent nurses in all areas of the nursing profession, including those working in clinical settings, nurse researchers, educators, and nursing executives. These organizations bring important issues to the attention of Congress and the public. The lawmakers are already aware of the critical nature of the nursing shortage, but these organizations provide them with the additional information necessary to delineate the reasons for the shortage. In fact, the Department of Health & Human Services estimates that by 2020, and despite the projection that registered nursing will have the greatest job growth of all professions in the United States, we will need 2.8 million nurses. This is 1.1 million short of the projected supply, and equates to a 36% vacancy rate. National nursing organizations are positioned to recommend policy formulation and revisions, and to outline steps believed to lead to easing nursing faculty and workforce shortages.

    Nurses are in a unique position to help alleviate the impending crisis by involving lawmakers at all levels, special interest groups, and the general public via the media in our crusade to effect change. The public has traditionally held the nursing profession in high regard, and would most likely support legislation that increases the number of nurses if they believe that the policy will actually result in improved healthcare for the nation. These nurses can persuade other voters to support members of Congress that are in favor of nursing policy. As such, nurses from all areas of practice have the potential to be change agents involved in policy formation and making recommendations. Nurses are a potentially powerful group in the political arena. Our voices can (and should) be exercised by joining professional organizations, both local and national.

    As a soon-to-be nurse educator with an advanced nursing degree, I feel that the voice that these organizations give nurses in Washington regarding the shortage of nursing educators and practicing bedside nurses is invaluable. These organizations are on our side, and make no bones about making the Administration aware of that.

    Get thyself involved!
    ~RWS

  • Kim McAllister, RN said on June 11th, 2007 at 1:15 am

    I am amazed at the number of nurses in the political arena, and it is extremely inspiring to read these columns. How I could have been so clueless for so long about so many of our nursing leaders astounds me. Thanks for a great column on a great colleague!

  • Augusto de Arruda Botelho said on March 11th, 2017 at 1:32 am

    It’s wonderful that you are getting ideas from this paragraph as well as from our discussion made here.

 
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