By Jonah Grinkewitz

The COVID-19 pandemic showed the important role nurses play in caring for communities.

"Nurses are the largest health-care workforce in the world, and they are on the front lines of health care," said Janice Hawkins, clinical associate professor of nursing at Old Dominion University. "We know the problems firsthand, and often the solutions, yet we are underrepresented at the table and on boards where decisions are made."

In her third year as a Sigma United Nations Liaison, Hawkins has used her platform to advocate for nurses on a global level.

Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing (Sigma) is "an international community of nurses, dedicated to the advancement of knowledge, teaching, learning, and service through the cultivation of communities of practice, education, and research," according to its website.

Hawkins is one of four Sigma UN liaisons. Along with two youth representatives, they promote the value of nursing leadership at UN events and programs.

"Attending high-level UN meetings provides a forum to remind the world that nurses are a part of the solution in promoting better health for all," she said.

Hawkins, who was selected in January 2020, has brought visibility to ODU's nursing program, where she serves as the program director for the Nurse Executive DNP concentration and director of community and global initiatives.

Vaccine equity is a particular focus for Hawkins. Her nursing background is in community health and maternal child nursing, where she became an advocate for immunizations.

In addition to her role with Sigma, she is a United Nations Foundation State Leader representing Virginia. She has recruited, trained and mentored hundreds of students, nurses and others to advocate for global vaccine programs.

"This past spring, as a group, we sent almost 700 tweets to members of Congress requesting funding for these types of programs," Hawkins said. "Our efforts over the past 10 years have contributed to over $5 billion in U.S. funding to support routine childhood immunizations worldwide."

Most recently, she attended the Sigma European Regional Nursing Conference in Ireland, where she was awarded Best Oral Presentation, Runner-Up. In August, she will be featured on the public radio program "With Good Reason" for an episode about vaccines and children.

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