NEW YORK NURSE: December 2009
by Erin Silk
When you sit down to talk with new NYSNA president Karen Ballard, it’s evident that she is a champion of change.
“Nursing is about change. I can’t think of another profession that accommodates change quite like nursing,” she said. And she’s not talking about advances in science, but rather the twists and turns in one’s own life that the profession seems to embrace.
“As a nurse you can move from one specialty to another, secure in the knowledge that the field is always ready to move with you,” Ballard said. This belief has led to her varied career as a staff nurse, supervisor, educator, NYSNA staff member, and consultant.
Recently inducted as a Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing, Ballard described it as “a wonderful and humbling experience, just to be nominated by my sponsors.” Academy Fellows include the nation’s most influential nurses. Being selected as a “FAAN” is a recognition of a lifetime of contributions to the profession.
And Ballard has contributed. From the 1972 “March on the Hill” in Albany, to witnessing the signing of the Nurse Practice Act, to her work as chair of the nurses’ workgroup for Health Care Without Harm, she has labored for more than four decades to evolve the practice of nursing.
Ballard began her career by specializing in psychiatric nursing. A strong supporter of educational advancement for nurses, she earned a master’s degree at a time when it was generally believed to be of little value.
“I was 24 years old, with a master’s and they didn’t know what to do with me,” she says, referring to her superiors and colleagues at Mount Sinai Medical Center. Ballard took it upon herself to make a place for herself. She lobbied for the creation of the position of clinical nurse specialist in pediatric mental health and became one of eight nurses chosen for the inaugural program at the hospital.
Realizing early on that she wanted to work with children, Ballard found her passion in pediatric-mental health nursing. “How children dealt with pain, both physically and mentally, became very important to me,” she said.
When asked if it takes a special person to handle the stress, and sometimes sadness, of working with children, she admits she gets this question a lot. “I like to say that I look for what I call an ‘inner quiet’ that tells me I can have the worst day imaginable on a peds floor and still remain in control of myself and the situation,” she said.
Ballard also has an extensive history with NYSNA. Always an active member, she came on staff at NYSNA in the 1980s as an associate director of the Nursing Practice & Services Program, planning to stay for five years. She became director of the program in 1987 and continued staff leader until her retirement in 2005. That same year, she received the NYSNA Honorary Recognition Award.
Ballard says it was difficult at first to transition from clinical practice. She realized quickly, however, that through NYSNA, “New York’s nurses and citizens became my patients.” Her need to serve others was satisfied by leading initiatives such as getting the state to recognize the value of nursing through the use of nursing intensity weights in its reimbursement methodology.
A self-professed “organizational junkie,” Ballard built strong partnerships with staff at the state departments of Health and Education. She twice helped rewrite the state’s nursing home and hospital codes and has been known to recite sections from memory. She worked to establish the NurseResponse emergency registry and pushed for changes in education requirements for hospitalized children.
A champion of healthcare reform for the past decade, Ballard has served on the steering committee of Rekindling Reform, a grassroots organization working to achieve quality, affordable health care in New York State.
Ballard has stated that the watchword for her term as president is “advance.” When asked how NYSNA members can help advance the profession and contribute to the association’s success, Ballard suggests, “owning your membership.”
She explains that, while paying your dues allows the association to keep doing the work, nurses should “make contact” with NYSNA by attending at least one meeting per year, keeping up to date on association business on the website, or volunteering for committees. “This makes membership mean something to you,” Ballard says.
Ballard looks forward to sharing her presidency with all members and urges members to contact her with their hopes and concerns for the association.