Volunteer RNs at RNAO see equal parts ‘give’ and ‘get’

Emily Monaco, Joyce Tsui, Christina Moldovan and Cathie Gernaey are executive network officers (ENO) for their chapters or interest groups within the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO). They are among the more than 300 ENOs who play an instrumental role in advancing nursing and health issues at the local and specialty level. Discover what led them to the role, and the lessons they’ve applied to their working lives.RNAOLogo

Emily Monaco – Policy and political action officer, Sioux Lookout chapter – Emily Monaco decided to become more politically active when she became aware of RNAO’s advocacy work. The obstetrics RN at the Meno Ya Win Health Centre applied to become policy and political action officer (PPAO) for the association’s Sioux Lookout chapter about a year ago.

“Seeing…a force like RNAO and how much (it) does and can do in terms of health advocacy…motivated me,” she explains, adding that, in the north, “it’s harder to get issues brought forward and recognized as priorities” due to geographic distances, smaller population sizes and diverse needs.

Monaco admits she was intimidated by the role at first, but has since gained valuable insight into politics, the role of an MPP, and how to build a rapport with politicians. She now knows how to prepare for meetings with decision-makers, and the value of participating in advocacy events such as Queen’s Park on the Road and Take Your MPP to Work, two of RNAO’s signature political events. She was involved in both with Kenora-Rainy River MPP Sarah Campbell, and says: “It was a privilege to get (Campbell’s) insight on the issues…it gave us a sense of what she was doing…to address…affordable housing.”

Inspired to apply what she’s learned as an ENO, Monaco joined forces last winter with two other nurses to speak to teenagers at a local high school about parenting (there are many young mothers in the area, Monaco explains). Finding opportunities to join forces and create and foster connections with other health-care providers and organizations was something she learned. “There’s a lot of potential to form new relationships and collaborate,” she says. “Being an ENO has given me more motivation and more confidence to promote health and nursing within my community.”

Thanks to her experience as an ENO, she now has a better sense of nurses’ ability to have a positive impact on health and healthy work environments, she says. When it comes to volunteering with the chapter and getting involved, Monaco says “just do it if you feel any inclination.”

Joyce Tsui and Christina Moldovan Membership officers, Nursing Research –  Interest Group Joyce Tsui and Christina Moldovan were classmates at Toronto’s Ryerson University. They both had the same goal: a master’s degree in nursing. Now, the pair have found themselves pursuing another objective together, except this time, the focus is on recruitment of RNAO members. Tsui and Moldovan are membership ENOs for RNAO’s Nursing Research Interest Group (NRIG). They’ve shared the role for two years. Together, they have created postcards to attract new nurses to the group, called former members, and spearheaded a campaign to honour long-standing NRIG RNs.

Tsui and Moldovan say they took on the role because they want to give back to their professional association. “All of the great benefits and learning we gain (through RNAO) inspires (us) to get others involved,” says Moldovan. “Without our professional association, we would not be where we are today,” Tsui adds. “As a member, you are contributing to that growth and development within the nursing profession.”

“It’s so empowering to be able to share the passion of nursing,” Moldovan says, adding the role has helped her develop her communication and leadership skills. Tsui says it has forced her to come out of her shell: “I’m a shy person, so this helps me open up. I’ve learned how to connect with people.”

“You have to be passionate…to bring others’ passion forward,” Moldovan suggests. Both Tsui and Moldovan were mentored by Nancy Purdy and Veronique Boscart, chair and past chair of NRIG, respectively. “Great role models make me want to do this work, be involved and make a difference,” says Tsui. “I’ve gained so much through RNAO, so it’s just a tiny way for me to give back.”

Cathie Gernaey – Communications officer, Middlesex-Elgin chapter Twenty years ago, there were very few nursing jobs in Ontario, so Cathie Gernaey began applying for work south of the border. Landing a position in Michigan, she spent over a decade practising in acute care for an American hospital and developed a “great appreciation for Canadian nurses and Canadian nursing.” Gernaey returned to Canada in 2004. At that time, she made it a personal goal to ensure everyone knows just how much value RNs add to the health-care system. She defends nurses when a negative news story surfaces, and has gone to elementary schools to discuss nursing roles and responsibilities.

Gernaey is communications officer for RNAO’s Middlesex-Elgin chapter. It’s a role she says allows her to promote the value of the profession and to learn more about RNs’ different levels of expertise. “(Communications) is an area I’ve never really delved into,” she explains. “I do a lot of speaking, lecturing…(but) I’ve never really done anything (like) press releases.” Gernaey now drafts the chapter’s newsletter and drums up media interest when the group hosts events. She writes media releases and advisories, and pitches story ideas to local journalists. Fostering relationships with the media, she admits, isn’t always easy.

As an ENO, Gernaey’s been able to keep colleagues informed about exciting activities they might not otherwise hear about. Earlier this year, the chapter took part in a Habitat for Humanity build. On build day, four of Gernaey’s co-workers showed up to help raise awareness of the need for a national housing strategy. “If I hadn’t been promoting it…they might not have heard about it or paid attention,” she says. Gernaey’s advice for new volunteers is to persevere, despite the challenges of relationship building with journalists. Above all, have fun and “keep your mind open,” she says.