May 06, 2015

Recognizing nurses and all health care professionals: Action, advocacy, care

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT Communications
health care wisdom thompson
Caption: Barbara Wisdom and Rosemarie Thompson.

Editor's Note: Today, May 6, is National School Nurses Day as well as National Nurses Day. NYSUT is proud to represent thousands of professionals in both of these vital health care fields. To honor all of them, we offer the following feature story on two outstanding women who NYSUT recently recognized as the union's Health Care Professionals of the Year. Their skill and dedication is testimony to the important work their health care colleagues do across the state.

A dynamic duo shared the tribute of being named NYSUT Health Care Professionals of the Year for their roles as school guidance counselor and visiting nurse: careers with action, advocacy and care.

Rosemarie Thompson, a school guidance counselor from the United Federation of Teachers and an advocate for her profession, shares the honor with Barbara Wisdom, a registered nurse with Federation of Nurses/UFT, who works as a care coordinator with the Visiting Nurse Service of New York.

"It was an awesome weekend. It was really a proud moment," Thompson said of the union's recently concluded Representative Assembly, which honored NYSUT's varied constituencies. "This award helps push school counseling to the forefront. There are a lot of social and emotional problems students deal with, and this recognition will help me bring awareness to the importance of students having school counselors."

Thompson has been a familiar advocate for a long time. "It's nice that the work you're doing for your union gets recognized. I try to help colleagues achieve workplace dignity, and make sure collective bargaining is upheld. This award has motivated me to continue on with that fight," she said.

Her own guidance counselor inspired Thompson when she was in high school and she went on to claim the profession for herself because she enjoys "watching students transition from grade to grade, and grow up."

Thompson advocates for school guidance counselors through many organizations and through the collective power of her union. As a member of NYSUT's Health Care Professionals Council, she brings the concerns of counselors to lobby days, educational forums and to public policy. She is also president-elect for the New York State School Counseling Association (NYSSCA). For the UFT, she serves as the union's guidance counselor chapter leader, representing her peers with New York City's Department of Education and at legislative hearings and community forums.

Thompson was on the ground floor of the creation of the annual Guidance Counselors Conference for her UFT colleagues.

This busy professional remains concerned that elementary schools are not mandated to have full-time guidance counselors and that counselors and students are asked to bear the repercussions of budget cuts in all public schools. Positions get eliminated, caseloads grow and professional development often gets lost with relentless funding losses.

"I'm hoping for manageable ratios to meet the emotional and social needs of students throughout the city," Thompson said.

Wisdom said she grew up in Jamaica and dreamed of becoming a nurse. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in nursing in New York and then worked in different hospitals before moving on to home care, where she has served patients for 26 years. Her focus is to ensure the treatment of patients with respect and dignity.

Wisdom's roles have included acute care, nurse consultant, mentor to new nurses and, currently, care coordinator for Visiting Nurses of New York, the largest home care organization in the country. She has earned a master's degree as well.

"All that I do and all that I know is because of those who have toiled on before me," Wisdom said.

Through the union, she said, she has experienced the privilege and power of due process, collective bargaining that provides for work in a safe environment and labor relations. She has served in UFT leadership roles of delegate and vice chapter chairperson.

"Being a nurse is all that I have always wanted to be and it is my lifelong goal to continue to serve those who have entrusted their care in my hands at the most vulnerable time of their lives," Wisdom said.