VUSN welcomes the future U.S. Surgeon General

Editor’s Note: Rear Admiral Sylvia Trent-Adams was named acting U.S. Surgeon General on April 21, making her the first U.S. Surgeon General who is not a physician. She had been deputy U.S. Surgeon General.

The lecture drew students from all programs. From left, DNP student Marcia Smith, Rear Admiral Sylvia Trent-Adams, Dean Linda Norman and PreSpecialty Nursing student Shannon Davies. Photo by Anne Rayner.

Rear Admiral Sylvia Trent-Adams, the then U.S. Deputy Surgeon General, visited Vanderbilt University School of Nursing (VUSN) in January to speak to a packed audience of students, faculty, alumni and campus leaders.

In her presentation, “Health Policy Priorities for Nursing: Past, Present and Future,” the nation’s top nurse gave an overview of factors that influence the health policy process and health care delivery system in the U.S., and urged nurses to be bold in assuring the nursing profession has a voice in the nation’s health care discussion.

“If you hear nothing else that I say, please know that the take-home message from my entire talk is I believe that nurses are the power force that can change health care delivery in this country,” said Trent-Adams, Ph.D., FAAN. “I think that the knowledge and experience and the passion that is in this room can have a dramatic impact on the future of health care not only for this country but for the world.”

Nurses are innately qualified to help shape policy, she said. “Nurses have the strongest stance in health care: being an advocate for patients. Nurses are putting hands on patients more than any other provider in the system. You have your finger on the pulse, both from a policy perspective and a clinical perspective.”

Trent-Adams said it is critical that advanced practice nurses and nurse leaders today understand the challenges the profession faces.

“We have to make sure from a policy perspective that we take control of making (nursing’s) voice heard for the nursing profession, because we don’t need medicine, pharmacy or dentistry telling us what’s appropriate for nursing in practice, in leadership or in scope of practice,” she said.

At the time of the lecture, Trent-Adams was second in command at the U.S. Surgeon General’s office. Before being appointed Deputy Surgeon General, she was the chief nurse officer for U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, a group of more than 6,700 uniformed public health officers working in federal government. In addition to other responsibilities, she helped lead the Commissioned Corps response to the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, which included staffing and managing a 25-bed field hospital for health care workers possibly infected with Ebola.

Trent-Adams’ lecture was the inaugural presentation in the new VUSN Dean’s Diversity Lecture series. The lecture series explores the diversity of backgrounds, cultures, ideas and viewpoints in our world today.