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An estate gift from Diane Walker will fund a professorship in health policy at the VCU School of Nursing. Photo: Tyler Trumbo, MCV Foundation

Estate Gift Will Inspire Change Through Nursing Professorship

In 2004, a Virginia nursing student was assigned a project: Research the law that prevented nurse practitioners from signing approvals for things like handicapped parking permits or camp physicals. She discovered over 50 citations that stated only physicians could provide a signature. Such a restriction on the nursing practice was delaying patient care, so nursing professionals decided to act. They advocated for legislative change and the signature legislation was born.

diane walker
Diane Walker has provided for the creation of a health policy professorship at the VCU School of Nursing to equip future nurses with the knowledge and tools to understand the impact of health policy on the profession. Photo courtesy of Diane Walker

That sort of civic engagement, said retired nurse practitioner Diane Walker, should begin in the classroom.

“Students need to understand what regulates their practice and the mechanics of how to create change,” said Walker, who through a bequest has plans to establish the Diane Whitney Walker Professorship in health policy at the VCU School of Nursing. “It is important to teach nurses how to actualize their vision of extraordinary health care.”

Walker completed graduate training at the School of Nursing in 1999. During her time as a student, she joined her professional organization, the Virginia Council of Nurse Practitioners. She went on, following graduation, to serve as a board member for 11 years. Many hours were spent reviewing legislation that would affect a nurse practitioner’s role in patient care.

“I became more aware, educated and involved as a citizen, and learned how the legislative process works,” Walker said.

She quickly realized that nursing had the potential to make an impact far beyond the confines of patient beds and hospital walls.

“The nursing profession can do so many things with their clinical background that broadly influences patient health,” said Walker. For example, health care professionals who advocate for climate change laws are pointing to the bottom line: “This is ultimately harming people’s health if we don’t fix climate change.”

By creating a professorship that will focus on health policy, students will understand how the legislative process works and learn ways to become actively involved in shaping the laws that will affect not only a nurse’s practice, but also improve patient care.

It is important to teach nurses how to actualize their vision of extraordinary health care.

Diane Walker, VCU School of Nursing graduate

As an educator herself, Walker would routinely take her nurse practitioner students to meet with legislators and discuss legislation changes. After Walker’s teaching tenure was done, a former student shared with Walker that the class truly changed her perspective and made a difference in her life.

When the professorship is fulfilled, Walker hopes that “the class will provide inspiration to the students to make wide-reaching positive change in the world.”

If you are interested in supporting the VCU School of Nursing, please contact Pam Lowe, the school’s senior director of development, at or 804-827-0020.