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Health knowledge is power

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By: (Carli Zegers, PhD, MBA, APRN, FNP-BC) — Interview by Elizabeth Moore, content creator at ANA.

Carli Zegers is creating systems change from the inside out.

Carli Zegers, PhD, MBA, APRN, FNP-BC, has a passion for health literacy, the subject of her extensive research and published papers. Currently, she’s an assistant professor at the University of Kansas School of Nursing and practices in the University Health Truman Medical Center emergency department. In 2020, Zegers received the American Nurses Foundation and UnitedHealth Group Jeannine Rivet National Leadership Award. She has been recog­nized as an American Academy of Nursing and Jonas Foundation Policy Scholar and an American Academy of Colleges of Nursing and Johnson & Johnson Minority Fac­ulty Training Scholar. Zegers serves as treasurer of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, which honored her with its President’s Award in 2021. The American Nurses Association recently spoke with Zegers about her vision for health communication.

Why is health literacy so important to you?

As an emergency department nurse, I saw a lot of situations where aggressive procedures could have been avoided if the patient knew about other options available, like hospice. Health literacy is receiving the information you need, in the format you need, about what you need. When that doesn’t happen for a patient, it’s a system failure, not the patient’s. Health literacy is power. I’m looking at how we transfer that power from the provider to the patient via communication and information exchange.

Why did you get involved with the National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN)?

When I was a new nurse in 2014, I met Dan Suarez, MA, RN, who was then president of NAHN, at the Future of Nursing Campaign for Action meeting. He encouraged me to start a NAHN chapter in Nebraska. After looking into the mission and vision of the organization, I saw it as a way I could tie together the communication work I was doing with the Hispanic nursing community. So, I started the Nebraska chapter in 2015 and loved the community and the family that members gained from it. I grew up with NAHN. I was on the board at the national level from 2018 to 2020, and now I’m treasurer.

It’s been an amazing platform to receive the mentorship I needed to grow as a leader. I also serve on the board of Latina Strong and as treasurer of the Academy of Communication in Healthcare.

How has your MBA influenced your leadership journey?

Frequently, healthcare providers are social-justice focused, but our healthcare system is market-justice focused. As healthcare providers and leaders, if we want to effect change, we have an obligation to understand the economics and the policy behind everything we do. An MBA teaches you the language around money. It’s also a good place to learn how we can be more efficient in healthcare.

What can nurse leaders do to address health disparities in Hispanic communities?

There are several things. Start by getting informed and then get involved. Immerse yourself in the issue, and if you know your team is missing a voice, or a perspective, grow your team to fill those missing pieces. Vote for candidates and legislation that address health disparities at the local, state, and federal levels. Elevate the voices of those affected. Don’t assume that you know what people in certain populations are experiencing and how it’s affecting them. And finally, remember that systems are designed to produce the outcomes we see. Assume that injustices live inside the system. So, if we want different outcomes, we need to create new systems. The burden is not on individuals, it’s on all of us.

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