When Penne Allison attended the 2011 National Black Nurses Association conference, she met a large group of nurses who were at the top of their profession.
"I was totally impressed with the level of nurses there," said Allison, director of emergency services at the University of Kentucky HealthCare Hospitals. She interacted with nurses who held doctorates and who were deans of nursing schools and, because she was so impressed, she decided to start a local chapter when she returned to Lexington.
Founded in 2011 and chartered the following year, the Lexington Chapter of the National Black Nurses Association is dedicated to supporting students, retirees and current nursing professionals. The mission is to not only mentor young nurses, but to push others to achieve more academically. One member, Allison said, has decided to get her doctorate since the chapter began.
"I really wish I had something like this when I came out of nursing school," Allison said. "Sometimes you need to have a voice," she said, adding that members can more directly address health disparities in the black community, such as higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, renal illnesses and HIV/Aids.
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About 30 nurses attended the first gathering of the chapter, but members want more.
Allison, who is the local president, said that as of last September, Kentucky had 1,700 black registered nurses, with 196 in Lexington. Added to that is 1,200 black licensed practical nurses, of whom 114 are in Lexington. Statewide, there are 62,056 RNs and 15,218 LPNs, according to the Kentucky Board of Nursing.
A 2010 report by the Institute of Medicine noted that the country as a whole needed an increased diversity of nurses by gender and race. "The report said we need to have some people who look like their patients," Allison said.
One way to do that at the local level is to provide scholarships to minority students interested in studying nursing. To that end, the Lexington chapter is hosting a scholarship banquet on Friday to raise money to support the "scholarly work of nursing students," she said.
The national trend is navigating nurses to the next level of education, she said. In the future, a growing number of health care facilities hiring nurses will be demanding bachelor's degrees.
The Institute of Medicine wants 80 percent of the nurses at the patient's bedside to hold a bachelor's by 2020, she said. "Organizations like this will help direct nurses onto a more professional path," she said.
Deidre Walton, president of the association, will speak at the banquet, which is themed "Making a Real Impact." Walton is a nurse, lawyer, minister and retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and has been working with universities to create innovative programs to entice minority nurses to return to school for higher degrees.
The national association was organized in 1971 and chartered in 1972 in Ohio. The non-profit organization represents 150,000 black nurses, students and retired nurses in the United States, Eastern Caribbean and Africa.
In Lexington, members chose to dedicate their chapter to Mary Seacole, a nurse from Jamaica who used her own resources to travel to Turkey in 1855 to nurse British soldiers during the Crimean War.
Most of the soldiers were dying in a cholera epidemic, which Seacole had experience with. But her services were rejected by the British government as well as by Florence Nightingale, who became famous during that war.
The military praised Seacole at the time, but her name was nearly forgotten until her autobiography was rediscovered in the 1970s. In 2006, she was named one of the Greatest Black Britons by Every Generation Media.
Just like Seacole, Allison said, the Lexington chapter wants make an impact.
"We don't want to be just an organization that meets but doesn't do anything," she said. "In time, this is going to be an organization to be dealt with in this community."
IF YOU GO
Lexington Chapter of the National Black Nurses Association Scholarship Banquet
When: 7 p.m. April 26
Where: Hilary J. Boone Center at the University of Kentucky, 500 Rose St.
Tickets: $65. Call Jitana Benton-Lee, (859) 218-3234. Deadline is April 24.