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5 Lessons from the Bad*ss Nurses Honored at the AANP Conference’s Opening Ceremony

The American Association of Nurse Practitioners’ annual conference kicked off on Tuesday in Indianapolis with dozens of continuing education opportunities. On Wednesday, though, was when the fun really began at the opening ceremony.

Keynote speaker Elizabeth Smart inspired the room with her story of perseverance and hope — valuable for any clinician with a challenging patient — but the awardees toward the end of the general session stole the show with their words of wisdom.

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Here are some universal lessons for nurse practitioners from the honorees at the AANP conference’s opening ceremony.

Take advice from people who know you well, but don’t be afraid to do things your own way.

During the emotional in-memoriam speech for former AANP president Mona Counts, PhD, CRNP, FNAP, FAAN, FAANP, who held the office from 2006 to 2008, current president Joyce Knestrick, PhD, CRNP, FAANP described her relationship with Counts’ and her zest for life.

“I first met Mona Counts as my professor at West Virginia University,” Dr. Knestrick began. “I did not plan to be a nurse practitioner. I wanted to get my master’s degree and be a nurse administrator. But Mona had different plans for me. She said, ‘You’re going to be a nurse practitioner.’ And who said no to Mona? Mona always did it her way.”

Don’t get bogged down by challenges. Focus on your progress.

The 2019 recipient of the Towers Pinnacle Award is Joyce Pulcini, PhD, RN, PNP-BC, FAAN, a tenured professor at The George Washington University’s nursing school. She received the award for her work in developing quality continuing education, among other efforts.

During her acceptance speech, Dr. Pulcini recalled, “I was in Washington, D.C., in 1984 at an NPACE conference where AANP was born, at one of its first meetings. And to see this what’s going on and this group today, it’s truly humbling, I have to say.”

Never limit yourself.

The 2019 recipient of the Sharp Cutting Edge Award is Mary Wakefield, PhD, RN, who was honored for her work in public health policy advocacy. She served as the acting United States Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Obama from 2015 to 2017.

Dr. Wakefield, who hails from a small town of 7,000 people in North Dakota, began her nursing career working in rural nursing homes and continuing care units. When searching for a summer internship, she landed in a local senator’s office, and so began her political career. She later became said senator’s chief of staff and moved to Washington, D.C.

Never forget why you decided to become an NP.

When she accepted her award, Dr. Wakefield praised NPs for their commitment to caring “some of the nation’s most underserved and hard to reach. While I worked in the Obama administration, I was always proud to see and share data with others indicating the high proportion of NPs working in underserved rural and urban areas.”

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She continued: “While I’ve spent decades in the health policy arena, it’s important to me that all of you know that I’ve always identified myself to everyone … as a nurse first.”

Learn from your patients.

Gillian McKie, APN, won the Health Monitor LifeChanger Award for her work in palliative care as an NP in Morristown, New Jersey. After sharing a heartwarming story about the patient who nominated her for the award, McKie concluded, “We all learn the most from our patients.”

Stay tuned for the rest of Florence Health’s coverage of the AANP 2019 conference. If you have specific questions or any sessions you’d like us to attend, email

Last updated on 10/8/19.

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