Lisabeth Johnston, PhD, APRN, CS
2011 APNA Award for Excellence in Leadership ~ Advanced

It all began when she was an 18 year old nursing student. “My work started with my perception of the…deeply institutionalized subservient position we were subjected to as nursing students,” Lisabeth Johnston, PhD, APRN, CS says of the beginnings of her lifelong commitment to advocating for nurses. “The women’s movement that came along just in time…and initially provided a forum for taking some action on issues that I thought were holding women down, holding nurses back, or making me feel disparaged/unreasonably held back personally or professionally.” She is an energetic and dedicated leader with a talent for energizing and mobilizing her fellow nurses to action. “When I decide that a goal is right, reasonable, and fair, I become passionate about it,” she explains. “When I encounter passivity or open opposition based on what I consider dismissiveness, illogical, unreasonable or petty thinking, I become more passionate.”

In the early 1980s Dr. Johnston worked with “a great small group of women of the Connecticut Nurses Association” to examine legal issues in advanced practice nursing. The biggest issue they identified in independent practice for APRNs was the fact that they were not able to be paid directly. “It became clear that we were professionals and should get paid just like anyone else,” she says. The group worked together to persuade Connecticut legislators to enact statutory third party reimbursement for CNSs and NPs. “That’s where I really cut my teeth on politics and getting other people to engage,” Dr. Johnston remembers.

In 1991 she and a group of like-minded CNSs formed the Connecticut Society of Nurse Psychotherapists to advocate for psychiatric CNSs and APRNs and achieve prescriptive authority in Connecticut. “It was an idea whose time had come,” says Johnston. Under Johnston’s leadership, the Government Relations Committee lobbied to eliminate the supervisory clause in Connecticut’s APRN statute. “Connecticut is known as ‘The Land of Steady Habits,’” laughs Johnston, “That should give you an idea of how difficult this was!” During this time Johnston also pursued her PhD, practiced in a private practice, and raised two kids. In 1999, after years of tireless work in the midst of a mare’s nest of competing interests, they successfully persuaded Connecticut legislators to change the language of the APRN Statute to one of “Collaborative Agreement” - a requirement for a collaborative relationship between an APRN and a physician licensed in Connecticut, in order for the APRN to prescribe medications.

Following this victory, she pushed forward to the next goal: fully independent prescribing privileges. “We need more,” she says, “Collaboration is a very ambiguous term.” Despite the statute’s revision, APRNs in Connecticut were encountering difficulties in finding a physician willing to enter into a collaborative agreement with them or, if one was found, difficulties in  agreeing upon a mutually acceptable terms. “It’s still a work in progress,” she says. “Sometimes you have to know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.”

Of her years of work advocating for advanced practice nurses in Connecticut she says, “I feel glad that I did it and I wish that I could have done more.” She credits the various groups she’s worked with throughout the years and is proud to have been a part of them: “I’m grateful that I could be a part of so many groups of strong capable people (most often women) at different stages of my life – women with vision, determination and energy who have gone after important goals with intelligence, enthusiasm, and good humor and where mutual support/mutual inspiration has carried the various groups and their respective missions to some very satisfying accomplishments!” Her professional accomplishments aside, what she is most proud of are “of course my wonderful kids who turned out so well and for having chosen a husband who puts up with me and supports me through it all!” As proud as she is of her children and husband, so should Connecticut’s advanced practice nurses be of her - proud of having such a dynamic and determined leader at their side.