Sigma charters Caribbean chapter: Watch video

By Jennifer L. Hoffman |

Omega Kappa Chapter is born.

Sigma charters Caribbean chapter: Watch video

Twenty-three years after initial discussions, the Caribbean Honor Society of Nursing becomes Omega Kappa Chapter, Sigma’s 535th.

Twenty-three years after the idea of a Caribbean chapter of Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing (Sigma) was conceived and seven months after its application for chapter status was approved by Sigma’s board of directors, Omega Kappa Chapter was officially born in chartering ceremonies on 30 May 2019. (Click here to view.) The chapter’s story begins at Sigma’s 8th International Nursing Research Congress, held in Ochos Rios, Jamaica, in 1996.

If, at first, you don’t succeed
Ochos Rios—Spanish for eight rivers—is located on Jamaica’s north coast. In attendance at the conference was Sigma member Syringa Marshall-Burnett, then head of The University of the West Indies School of Nursing, Mona (UWISON)—also located in Jamaica—who introduced several other Caribbean nurses to Sigma and spearheaded efforts to start a Sigma chapter. (See profile of Burnett published in Reflections magazine in 1998.) Before long, nurse leaders and undergraduate nursing students were inducted in the developing honor society, which is the second phase of starting a Sigma chapter. Despite significant faculty engagement, that first attempt to establish a chapter at UWISON was unsuccessful—and the years passed. 

Sigma charters Caribbean chapter: Watch videoFast forward to 2011. In May or June of that year, John Nelson, a member of Zeta Chapter who had become connected to UWISON through Patricia Thompson, EdD, RN, FAAN, past chief executive officer of Sigma, and Hermi Hyacinth Hewitt, OD, PhD, RN, RM, FAAN, nursing education consultant at the University of Technology in Kingston, Jamaica, spoke again with Pauline Anderson-Johnson, MSc, CertNAdmin, RN, a lecturer at UWISON. Nelson continued his catalytic role at the 2011 International Nursing Research Congress in Cancún, Mexico, where he facilitated further discussion among Joanna Bennett, PhD, BA (Hons), RN, RM, who was then head of school at UWISON; Anderson-Johnson; and Sigma staff members. They contacted 14 active and 49 inactive Sigma members in the region and actively worked to establish a Sigma chapter in the Caribbean that those members could call home. 

In July 2012, Anderson-Johnson attended the International Nursing Research Congress in Brisbane, Australia, where discussions with Sigma staff members continued. In the months that followed, full interest in continuing the journey was expressed by Head of School Bennett; her successor, Steve Weaver, PhD, MPH, RN; affected Sigma members; and the rest of UWISON’s faculty. Progress accelerated when, in October 2012, UWISON became fully accredited by the University Council of Jamaica.

Chapter under development
In 2014, the steering committee of the developing honor society—to be known as the Caribbean Honor Society of Nursing (CHSN)—held a series of meetings with Sigma staff members. Chaired by Anderson-Johnson, the committee of 26 nurse-leader members represented The UWI School of Nursing, Mona; International University of the Caribbean; University Hospital of the West Indies; and Northern Caribbean University

On 28 May 2014, the Caribbean Honor Society of Nursing inducted 64 members, including four undergraduate students. In July 2014, an additional 14 were inducted for a total of 78 members. Board members were elected at the first general meeting, which was also held in July.

In addition to focusing on requirements for application submissions and chartering, the new team renewed the honor society’s commitment to provide activities for members. Honor society leaders encouraged them to participate in its Journal Club and community outreach and provided assistance with writing research abstracts and preparing for presentations. 

From 2015 to 2018
CHSN continued to induct members and create unique programs, events, and benefits to attract and engage members. On two Thursdays a month, society members or external professionals met with members of the Journal Club to discuss articles related to health or nursing. During a nursing research workshop in 2015, a panel discussed translating research findings into practice. Quarterly seminars addressed evidence-based practice and research-related topics.

Several guest speakers have addressed the honor society, including Sigma Past President Hester C. Klopper, PhD, MBA, RN, RM, FANSA (2013-15); Doris Grinspun, PhD, RN, LLD (hon), Dr (hc), O.ONT, chief executive officer of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario; and Damian Graham, DBA, MPhil, former chief executive officer of Jamaica’s public sector Urban Development Corporation.

Community outreach efforts have included a two-day health fair and beach cleanup. During the health fair, CHSN members host and conduct medical examinations for Grade 1 students at two local primary schools, and the local Lions Club provides eye testing. CHSN provides presentations on disease prevention, immunization, and other topics and collaborates with social workers, nutritionists, and bankers for additional presentations. As part of the beach cleanup initiative, CHSN collaborated with community leaders, businesses, and other citizens to talk about sanitation, community health, disease prevention, environmental health, and community building.

Additional events include 1) annual leadership orientation training and skills development focusing on board training, committee involvement, and other leadership topics; 2) observance of World Mental Health Day, with discussion of mental health in the workplace and a draft of the Jamaica Ministry of Health’s Workplace Mental Health Policy; and 3) celebration of Nurses Week with guest lecturers.

Chapter member benefits
In addition to advantages available to all Sigma members, members of the newly chartered Omega Kappa Chapter receive the following benefits:

  • Research support for local, national, and international conference presentations. Omega Kappa members help each other write and review research abstracts and presentations.
  • Assistance to members in development of research proposals, submissions of funding requests, and ethics reviews. Face-to-face virtual consultations offered monthly.
  • Encouragement of creative expression. Members are invited to submit creative writing and other manuscripts to be considered for publication in the chapter’s quarterly newsletter.
  • Discount of 25% to attend UWISON’s research conference.
  • Opportunities for leadership development through volunteerism and community service.
  • Scholarship funds and bursaries for nurse leaders and students.
  • Research funds for nurse leader members.
 Sigma charters Caribbean chapter: Watch video

To provide readers with additional information about the new chapter, its leaders responded to questions posed by RNL.

Why did the founding board of the Caribbean Honor Society of Nursing think it important to establish a Sigma chapter?

Nurses and midwives in the Caribbean recognize the value of professional and scholarly development and that networking with international colleagues and organizations is essential to the advancement of nursing. The honor society’s founding board members thought Sigma could help chapter members meet goals for development of leadership capacity in nursing and midwifery in the Caribbean, inspire passion to promote excellence in care and scholarship, and advance nursing locally, regionally, and internationally.

What factors were considered in selecting Caribbean Honor Society of Nursing as the name for the developing chapter?

To people in the region, Caribbean represents inclusiveness and a unique experience. So, in choosing Caribbean Honor Society of Nursing, we were sending a signal to nurse leaders and nursing students that the developing chapter would provide equal opportunity for representation and would be open to including whoever was interested.

This was especially important because, although the chapter is based in Jamaica, our members are drawn from other Caribbean countries. Also, Caribbean nurses residing in the United States and nurses from other countries with ties to the Caribbean are candidates for membership. Our focus on inclusiveness, collegiality, collaboration, and camaraderie would help propel the regional reach of our developing honor society and eventually result in establishment of a Sigma chapter.

The Caribbean Honor Society of Nursing, now chartered as Sigma’s Omega Kappa Chapter, is affiliated with the University of the West Indies (UWI). The UWI has two campuses that offer nursing programs—one in Mona, Jamaica, and the other in Trinidad and Tobago. These campuses are nearly 1,200 miles (1,931 kilometers) apart. With the campuses located so far from each other, how do you plan to engage members in chapter activities? 

In addition to members from Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, we also have members in St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the Bahamas, Barbados, Haiti, and the United States. Members will continue to engage in chapter activities in a variety of ways, including email, conference calls, and virtual meetings. Committee members from various countries and territories communicate frequently via social media platforms, including WhatsApp groups. Blackboard, Collaborate, and Zoom also facilitate interaction. In light of the distances that separate members, we schedule our annual activities with that reality in mind. Looking ahead, we plan to appoint national coordinators to organize activities in countries with two or more members.

What are some primary goals of Omega Kappa Chapter?

  • Provide professional development of members.
  • Increase collaboration and networking for international research.
  • Influence health policy through evidence-based research.
  • Strengthen our membership base through recruitment drive for nurse leaders across the Caribbean.
  • Promote scholarship, research, publication, and leadership among Caribbean nurses.
  • Seek funding for scholarship and research development.
  • Promote public recognition of nursing’s positive impact on national and regional development.
  • Facilitate collaboration for faculty development across the region.

What are some of the unique challenges that nurses encounter in the Caribbean region?

The Caribbean has a critical shortage of nurses, particularly those with experience and specialty training. Limited material resources and poor working and environmental conditions persist. Mass migration of nurses from the Caribbean to more developed countries also contributes significantly to the nursing shortage, especially in Jamaica.

Currently, there is limited involvement of nurse leaders at the policymaking level. There is also a shortage of quality clinical leaders to mentor and supervise young nurses and midwives. Some governments in the region still don’t recognize—or support legislation to recognize—prescriptive rights of advanced practice registered nurses. Also, despite similar qualifications, nurses and midwives often lack equity with other healthcare professionals in remuneration and benefits.

Although solutions to many of these issues lie outside the direct purview of Omega Kappa Chapter, leadership development, collegiality, and collective advocacy—across the Caribbean and beyond—will help address some of the problems.

For others who might be considering starting a nursing honor society, what are important things to keep in mind? What would help expedite the process? 

  • Be prepared to work assiduously.
  • Establish an effective communication system.
  • Have a dedicated team.
  • Plan activities to keep members interested.
  • Be deliberate and organized.
  • Set clear guidelines for roles and responsibilities.
  • Learn and follow the bylaws.

If an established honor society asked for advice in applying for Sigma chapter status, how would you respond? 

  • Follow the Sigma guidelines consistently.
  • Develop a system to ensure proper storage and retrieval of documentation.
  • Seek guidance and assistance from Sigma’s chapter officer.

Jennifer “Jenny” L. Hoffman is Sigma’s manager of chapter development.

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