The Bahamas is setting the trend in nursing in the Caribbean. Gone is the traditional mindset that they are handmaidens to the medical team.

“They form a collaborative team,” said Nurses Association of the Bahamas president Ampusam Symonette. “Nurses now participate in crucial decision-making. Therefore it is vital that they are fully equipped.”

And, among those setting the pace is the Bahamas’ first paediatric nurse practitioner, Rebecca Johnson, who won a prestigious regional award for her “hard work and dedication.”

The 20-year veteran beat out 26 other nominees to capture the Mavis Harney Award in October 2006 during the Caribbean Nursing Organisation (CNO) conference held in Nassau. The award is named after the CNO founder and is given for excellence in clinical practice.

The award committee reviewed documents showcasing Nurse Johnson’s work with patients, her educational background, personal development, community work, staff interaction, and research.

“We are very proud of Nurse Johnson,” said Mrs Symonette. “The country needs to continue showcasing its nurses.

“The Bahamas is a trendsetter. Our nurses are going back to school to achieve their bachelor’s degree. We presently have nurses with doctorate degrees.”

Nurse Johnson was nominated for the award by family members of a patient.

“It felt very good that I was recommended by a family,” she said. “That was very special.

“Since it was a regional award I did not think I stood a chance. Usually the winners are older persons or persons who are oftentimes much more experienced than me.

“So it really was a surprise and a big honour for me to get the award.”

Nurse Johnson entered the Bahamas School of Nursing in October 1982 where she obtained a diploma in Nursing.

She went on to obtain her Associate, Bachelor and Master’s degrees in Nursing, majoring in acute/chronic paediatric nursing with a minor in health and nursing administration. She also did a post Basic Paediatric Course.

Notwithstanding her full workload, Nurse Johnson has become more of a supervisor and teacher to her patients and their families, and her co-workers.

“When I come on duty,” she said, “I try to identify some patients who might need something special, whether it is some teaching for their families or care management to help them plan their care at home. Some days, I do staff teaching.”

Nurse Johnson also works tirelessly in the community. She is a member of the Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect (SCAN) unit, which is a multi-disciplinary team working to prevent and reduce the incidence of child abuse.

“I really feel that with children, we need to help them from being hurt and being abused,” said Nurse Johnson. “That would build a better community. If children grow up with a lot of hurt, feeling unloved and unwanted then they are going to be dysfunctional adults and have dysfunctional families.”

She volunteered as a nurse at the diabetes camp for children in Florida; is a founding member of the Bahamas Diabetic Youth Club; is a coordinator for the Bahamas diabetic summer camp and, is a founding member of the Adolescent Help Desk.

She has given lectures to community, church and civic groups on nutrition and the prevention of chronic illnesses, and is a member of the chronic non-communicable illness team, which works with international organisations to prevent incidence of chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.

She has completed several research projects and hopes to complete another one in time to present at the next CNO conference.

Two summers ago she published a booklet on safe summer tips for children.

“We got a pretty good response from that,” she said. “I want to start something like that for child abuse and another safe summer tips to stop children from getting hurt or abused this year.”