Dr. Ahnyel Burkes
National Senior Director, Ascension Health
Director, Health Policy and Advocacy, Louisiana State Nurses Association
Nominated by JLynn Westley
Growing up, Dr. Ahnyel Burkes admired her cousin Chantel, who pursued a nursing career, and she has been impacted profoundly by Chantel’s example. “I think the biggest thing was seeing someone who looked like me doing something so interesting,” she says. “If you see someone you can relate to, it opens doors to think, ‘Maybe that can be possible for me too.’”
A graduate of Chamberlain University’s Doctor of Nursing Practice program, nursing executive track, Burkes is passionate about the powerful impact of representation in nursing as a profession. “Representation is critical so that people go back to their communities and attract other folks into nursing. We are trying to increase diversity and inclusion in nursing, and we want to reflect the populations we serve.”
Advocacy + Networking = Burke’s Nurse Superpowers
Burkes derives energy from advocacy work. “When you are doing things that you really care about, you will find energy you never knew you had.”
“I would have to say that my nurse superpower is a combination of advocacy and networking, which go hand-in-hand. I speak on behalf of other people who may not feel that they are able to speak on behalf of themselves. I do not mind challenging the status quo.”
Passion Fuels Her Calling
“Nursing is a calling,” Burke says. “You are with people in their darkest moments, you are with them in their happiest moments. And it is really a privilege and an honor to be that person and become someone's family while they are going through those things.”
As an undergraduate, Burkes initially thought she wanted to be a mass communications major because she had heard that nursing school was academically rigorous and extremely challenging. After just one semester as a communications major, Burkes knew it was nursing she was passionate about. “I went into nursing, and I have never looked back! That is one of the reasons why I truly believe nursing is a calling. Nursing will seek you out, and once you become a nurse, you are a nurse forever.”
Burkes is the Director of Health Policy and Advocacy at the Louisiana State Nurse Association and chairs the Health Policy Committee. Her committee reviews all draft legislation that would impact healthcare – in 2022 alone, they examined more than 1,300 bills and pulled 300 that would impact healthcare. “We had a statewide nursing bill review with leaders from all of the nursing organizations to align on whether we supported the bill, opposed it, or would monitor them.”
One Profession, Myriad Career Paths
“Nursing has specialties, different educational levels, different certifications and educational preparation,” Burkes says. “A nurse is not a nurse is a nurse.” Burkes says the nursing profession is dynamic and has so many opportunities, be it nurse informatics, labor and delivery, ICU, trauma, neonatal, nurse leadership, and many others.
“I would advise anyone who is considering becoming a nurse leader to deeply examine their why,” she says. “Is it so you can help others? Is it so you can speak on behalf of others to support them? And really make sure that it is not for any selfish reasons.”
Burkes credits Chamberlain for helping her finish her DNP, and that degree brings credibility to healthcare discussions. “When I walk into the room and say I am a Doctor of Nursing Practice, those credentials affirm that, ‘Oh, she is a content expert, she can speak on this subject, and she knows what she’s talking about.’ Coming to the table with those credentials has been super helpful. But for me, what I experienced in the coursework, I was able to apply to real life.”
Advocating: If You’re Not at the Table, You’re on the Menu
Although Burkes had advocated at the unit and hospital levels, she says attending legislative committees was a major turning point for accelerating her advocacy work. At the committee meetings, she realized that testimony given was taken as truth. “Unless you have content experts in the room to provide testimony to counter what they are saying, that can say, ‘That’s actually not factual,’ it will continue to move forward. And that is how decisions are made.”
Burkes says if things are really going to change, there must be nurse representation at legislative committee meetings. “It goes back to that old saying that if you are not at the table, you are on the menu.”
Of course, Burkes realizes it is imperative that nurses be in hospitals, not just Capitol steps. But Burkes shares policy news with hospital nurses, advises how it may impact them, and align on next steps to take. “I think it bridges the gap because everything impacts us nurses in some way, shape, or form.”
“Every nurse should feel safe and valued every day they go to work,” Burkes says. “Nurses are trusted with protecting life, and you must feel like you're in a safe environment to do so. We are the backbone of the hospitals,” she added.
For the past three years, after a nurse died in the workplace, Burkes has worked tirelessly on workplace violence prevention. She has worked with legislators to draft a bill, HCB 312, which passed unopposed this month. In addition, she has co-drafted a resolution – HCR36 - to resurrect the workplace violence taskforce, so understand the data, not just the incidents, behind every occurrence. “We know it exists, but we really have to quantify what is going on so we can have action plans and solutions.” That bill also passed this month!
The Future is Bright
Burkes envisions an ideal future state of nursing in which nurses have a seat at every table and are in positions of leadership influencing patient care and community healthcare. “We are in our communities. We are on the front lines of healthcare and should be truly allowed to advocate on behalf of ourselves and our patients.”
In the next five-to-10 years, Burkes sees herself continuing to advocate for nurses and for patients, continuing to work in health policy, particularly around workplace safety. “I will continue to partner with community and institutions to move those efforts forward,” she says, “to create better environments, and to support nurses and patients.”
By Eileen Daily
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