A tribute to Virginia (Ginny) Ward Paulsen (1918-August 9, 1982)

Contributed by Rorry Zahourek

Ginny Paulsen was not a nurse by profession but by heart and dedication. She served as the Executive Director of the Colorado Nurses Association from 1961-1980. In that role she inspired many to become activists on numerous fronts (clinical and political). At that time in Colorado the nurse practitioner was born and clinical specialists programs were producing new and motivated practitioners. She supported a group of nurses at Denver General Hospital to organize and demand a job description and commensurate salary for Clinical Nurse Specialists. In the 1970’s Ginny supported a group of nurses to go into private practice by providing moral support, business advice and legal consultation. Later she helped the group writing a book that described the process of setting up one of the first primary nurse clinics in the country.

She was a realistic idealist. She believed in the goodness of humanity and that we as nurses and humans could forge new roles, advance the profession, health care and change the system as a whole.

She always had good advice regarding negotiating systems and was always available for consultation when we met obstacles. She was a fierce and intelligent nurse advocate who mentored many in expanding their scope of practice and securing the legislation needed to support those advances.  She developed and hired one of the first nurse lobbyist at the State capitol in the country. (See picture of Ginny with with the first nurse lobbyist, Sue Sawyer).

Ginny also started a major international educational conference (Chautauqua) to promote discussion of issues and foster activism. This conference continues today. She birthed the idea of having risk taking workshops. These fostered activism for expanding nurses’ roles, practice and changing systems. The result of one of those workshops was the formation of Nurses for Political Action Colorado. This group provided forums for candidates to present their views and discuss issues related to overall health care and nursing.

Her premature death was and is a loss. I’m sure she would be supporting this nurse activist group and would be pleased to see how many members it has that are committed to making changes for nursing and for all to have adequate health care.

Ginny on the left with Sue Sawyer (right)


Robin Cogan just sent this update on the amazing work she is doing to reduce school violence and mass shootings.


I wanted to share several outcomes of my participation in the Nursing Activism Think Tank with you! It continues to have a profound impact on my work. This afternoon I am leaving for Boston to present “Why I Became a School Nurse Activist” for the Northeastern University School Nurse Academy. There will be 250 school nurses present, who I am hoping will be moved to consider their own activism/advocacy activities.

I was part of a panel on gun violence prevention for the ACEs Conference in San Francisco on Oct 16th. Here is a link to the blog post I wrote about participating in the conference.

There is a newly formed (physician organized) research group called AFFIRM research. I connected with them on Twitter and have been asked to write a blog post about school violence and mass shootings. It’s called “No More Empty Desks”, and should be published on their website soon.

I began an art inspired form of activism to bring attention to the 26,000 school age children killed by gun violence since 1999. This is the inspiration for #NoMoreEmptyDesks. The #NoMoreEmptyDesk art project is underway with Camden NJ high school students. Here are a few pictures from the project:



An Open Letter on the vital importance of empathy in STEM

Nursing Activism Think Tank participant Rachel Walker just shared this information about a letter-writing campaign that many who follow this blog might want to see!  Here is her message:

UMASS professors Dr. Sarah Perry, Dr. Sandra Petersen and I have recently penned an open letter on the vital importance of empathy in STEM. Our letter is addressed to the task force currently writing the next 5-year Federal Strategic Plan for STEM education.

You can read our letter here

And if you wish, add your signature as well:

(And please note, this letter is an exercise in academic freedom. We are proposing our views, not an official position of the University.)

Join our Nursing Activism email list!

In the wake of our amazing Nursing Activism Think Tank, we have established a “Nursing Activism” email group! To join, fill out the request form below (you can also join here).  The email group is dedicated to supporting all forms of nursing activism, sharing information, and encouraging one another in taking bold action to promote health and wellbeing. Join us to stay connected!

Reflections on the Nursing Activism Think Tank

Participants in the Think Tank on July 30-31 share brief snippets describing the experience! We were over 50 strong over the 2 days; the photo below includes about half the group – those who lingered late at the end of the 2 days to organize a group photo!  Over the coming weeks watch for more “inspirations” posts that will share more of our stories, visions and actions!

Nicky Lambert – My experience connecting with colleagues at the Think Tank was  exciting, energising and productive. It was an opportunity to be submerged in ideas and inspiration, it was such a pleasure to have time to think about who we are and what we do. I was refreshed and reinvigorated by being with other nurses – I get why it’s called a ‘Think Tank’ now!

Alison – Supportive

Rachel Walker – Nurses promote healing for people and communities harmed by broken & unjust systems. Nurse activists struggle to heal the brokenness & injustice of the systems that harm people.

Donnean – Empowered

Ginny – Inspiring leadership action based on the core of nursing to transform our organizations. Whoo hoo!

Joyce – Fierce compassion

Beth – I felt like I was with a supportive family that validated my concerns and direction.

Maureen – thought-provoking and inspirational

Megan – I am so deeply grateful to have been part of this powerful community experience and I feel replenished. But if I can offer only few words to the reflection blog I will borrow these for now: “Behold, I do not give lectures or a little charity, When I give I give myself.” – Walt Whitman

Vanessa – Transformative.

Robin Cogan – Watch for my post appearing soon on The Relentless School Nurse: Be Brave Enough to Start a Conversation That Matters.

Mary – Nurse activism to improve conditions for working nurses improves patient outcomes also- two sides of the same coin.

Peggy – Deep friendship, community. Unforgettable affirmation of “trusting the process.”

leading with heart, mind naturally follows
watering seeds of life
the flowers and the nectar
sweetly nourish

Seja – Energizing, motivating, and exciting

Lisa – I felt amazing inspiration and made lifelong connections that will allow me to move in a positive direction with loving people right where they are (my Nursing activism).

Rorry – Inspiring support. I wanted more!!

Sandy – My word is “validated.”

Cory Ellen – My one phrase reflection on my experience is “casting on,” which I think is an apt metaphor for this initial making of linkages among people, experiences, and goals. I look forward to building on it in the future.

Jessica – Nursing IS a radical act.

Brenda – 

Activism & Advocacy: Our Shared Humanity
Souls singing, spirits renewed,
Authenticity and vulnerability embraced,
Truth to power, voice to vision,
Bearing witness to our collective story,
Ever cognizant to the call of the community,
So very grateful for new connections,
Kindred spirits on this path of activism and advocacy.

Michelle – awakening
Cathy – connected communities
Gerri – Not so much a ‘think tank. More of a reflecting well, around which we gathered and drank. And now, the challenge.
Margaret – Soul food