By Debra Wood, RN, contributor
Long a voice for prenatal and newborn health, the Association of Women's
Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses has branched out, partnering with other
entities to improve women's well being.
"We recognized there was much more to women than her reproductive years, and
in fact, what happens before her reproductive and during her reproductive
[years] determines what happens after," said AWHONN President Deb Hobbins, MSN,
APRN, NP, associate chief nurse and manager of clinical services and primary
care at the Veterans Administration Salt Lake City Health Care System.
AWHONN's 35th annual convention takes place in Tampa, Florida, June 26-30.
This year's convention theme is "Challenging the Status Quo."
The association has joined several prominent organizations in a national
campaign to fights cardiovascular disease in women through education, risk
identification and health promotion. Hobbins and Gail Kincaide, AWHONN executive
director, attended this year's American Heart Month kick-off event in February
at the White House.
"We were invited there because of the work we have done in primary prevention
and risk reduction for women," Kincaide said. "As part of that project, we have
a quality improvement component in which we gather information about women and
how they are integrating the risk assessment information into behavior and
That data will help nurse practitioners tailor their messages to women in the
future, and if necessary, change their approach.
AWHONN also partners with the March of Dimes and other organizations to raise
awareness about the problems of prematurity and aims to decrease preterm
delivery rates by 15 percent by 2008. Among its responsibilities for this
initiative, AWHONN is consulting and contributing to the development of
professional education resources about prematurity.
Other focus areas for shaping public policy and developing educational
offerings include breastfeeding, environmental toxins and their effect on women
and newborns, domestic violence, gender equality in health care and diversity in
"We need to recruit new nurses and get people into nursing that come from
diverse backgrounds, as well as we need to get nurses from diverse backgrounds
into their specialty organizations," Hobbins said. "My goal is inclusivity. I
thought we should include as many individuals as we could in our organization
and [participate in] partnering."
The organization has joined several other nursing associations in forming the
Amelia Island Consortium to share expertise across common concerns. For
instance, AWHONN has collaborated with the American Association of Diabetes
Educators about gestational diabetes and worked with a psychiatric nursing
association about problems faced by child abuse survivors during the perinatal
"Resources are getting more scarce for everybody, so [shaping] with each
other is a good thing," Hobbins said.
The 22,000-member, Washington-based association has 163 chapters and depends
on dues, donations and corporate sponsorship of some of its programs. This year,
its 35th anniversary, AWHONN has set a goal of raising $35,000 for its
HealthFunds program, which provides financial support for grassroots lobbying
and advocacy work, research and educational and outreach efforts.
"The biggest challenge is money and the economy and changes in how
pharmaceutical companies can interact with different entities," Hobbins said.
"Industry partners support us, and grants from industry have let us do wonderful
things. And those sources are drying up."
The association has received a grant from the National Institutes of Health
to provide cardiovascular health training in several states with high levels of
the disease. Nurses from the association will teach women about their risks for
heart disease and preventive measures.
In addition, AWHONN provides clinical and business consulting services to
hospitals. One of the most popular programs is the association's Perinatal Risk
Assessment Survey, during which it will send members to evaluate a hospital's
risk levels and make recommendations about how to lower it.
"Perinatal risk is a high priority for hospitals, so that program is in great
demand," Kincaide said.
The association recently produced a perinatal educational tool hospitals can
use when orienting new hires.
AWHONN has developed a research department and awards grants to novice and
experienced member researchers planning small or pilot studies to investigate
issues relevant to women's health, obstetrics and neonatal nursing, including
nurses' role in delivering cost-effective care in these specialties.
"Over the years we have invested in multisite projects, in which we apply
research in the practice setting and develop evidence-based clinical practice
guidelines," Kincaide said.
Topics of funded research include cyclic pelvic pain management, neonatal
skin care, continence, transitioning the preterm infant to an open crib, and
management of women in second-stage labor. Its most recent research involves
smoking cessation for women, especially during pregnancy.
That investigator will report on the findings at AWHONN's annual conference.
Results will also be published in the association's Journal of Obstetric,
Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing.
AWHONN also publishes Lifelines, a clinical practice management magazine, a
newsletter and a consumer education publication called Every Woman: The
Essential Guide for Healthy Living, distributed at the point of care by the
Annual conferences bring opportunities for networking and continuing
education. This year's event in Tampa, Challenging the Status Quo, will include
more than 100 educational sessions, learning labs and panel discussions.
"The energy is palpable," Hobbins said. "Members are wonderful, so
knowledgeable and excited."
AWHONN teaches nurses how to become leaders and offers opportunities through
its volunteer committees and chapter activities to hone those skills.
At last year's conference, a nurse midwife, originally from Nigeria, stood up
and said she did not have a mentor and would like one. Hobbins volunteered. This
year, Hobbins and that nurse will present a session about the mentoring
relationship and a proposal to establish a more formal mentoring program.
"She has added such richness to my life," Hobbins said. "We need to get
younger people interested in their professional organizations and involved and
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