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Nurses take care of business in Tupelo at 94th annual convention

The Mississippi Nurses Association’s (MNA’s) 94th-annual convention had it all in Tupelo — Elvis impersonators, continuing education opportunities and workshops on timely topics, receptions, a sock hop, a huge exposition, a statewide political rally, an inspiring keynote speaker and networking galore. With a theme of “Taking Care of Business,” that’s exactly what the conference did.

MNA president Pam Farris of Brookhaven promised the best convention on record. “Nursing is one of the fastest-developing fields in Mississippi,” she said. “None of us can possibly keep up with the business trends, career changes, professional development and critical advancements alone. The MNA is in the business of taking care of nursing’s business.”

The association’s executive director Ricki Garrett said the annual event delivered on that promise, noting that the City of Tupelo welcomed the group with open arms.

“We had a wonderful convention in Tupelo,” she said. “Many nurses told me it was the best one they’ve ever attended. We are pleased with the attendance and the compliments we received.”

Three hundred nurses registered before the start of the convention with others registering on site, along with 500 student nurses. Garrett said the joint meetings are important for both groups to have valuable interaction.

Nurses and nurse practitioners were able to pursue 40 hours of continuing education at the convention. The geriatric workshop had the largest number of participants. Other workshop topics included leadership, preparations, asthma, nursing law, controlled substances, on-the-job injuries and disaster preparedness.

“We try to provide a variety of continuing education since attendees represent all kinds of nursing,” Garrett said. “We focused a lot of attention on disaster preparedness. One session was led by Art Sharp, director of emergency response for the State Department of Health, and another was done on all hazards by an emergency preparedness group from Alabama.”

Avoiding on-the-job injuries, especially back injuries, are important for over worked nurses who work long hours, she added. That workshop was well attended, too.

There was also a workshop on handling finances. Garrett said there was some resistance when she first started including that topic in the lineup in 2004.

“Some nurses thought we should focus only on clinical issues, but now the financial workshop is well attended,” she said. “Nurses tend to think of others and don’t prepare for themselves. That’s why they need financial planning.”

The membership also tends to be interested in healthcare issues that the general public cares about, including improving elder care and the problems associated with obesity and smoking.

Almost every candidate for statewide office attended the political rally held at the convention. “We believe it’s important for nurses to vote and be involved in the political process,” Garrett said.

The 1,800-member association is reaping results from some of its legislative lobbying for measures to alleviate the nursing faculty shortage, winning approval for two successive $6,000 faculty pay increases.

“The biggest issue in nursing is related to the shortage of nurses, and we recognize that the only way to increase the number of nurses is to increase the faculty,” Garrett said. “We successfully lobbied for the salary increase, and that has helped us retain and recruit faculty.”

However, increasing the number of students also requires more equipment and teaching and laboratory space. Garrett said solutions might include using simulators instead of going into hospitals for some clinical procedures.

“We must be creative and address other barriers in addition to the faculty shortage,” she said. “We also must work to make sure students complete their nursing education.”

The convention was held at the BancorpSouth Conference Center and adjacent arena and the Hilton Hotel and Convention Center in Tupelo. Garrett said it was the largest meeting the new Hilton has had to date. The keynote speaker was Melodie Chenevert, a nurse and humorist from Gaithersburg, Md.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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