Tina Gerardi, MS, RN, CAE
Tennessee Nurses Association
Growing up in in the Capital District of New York, Tina Gerardi knew she wanted to pursue a career in nursing by the time she was in middle school. Completing her bachelor's degree from SUNY Plattsburgh, she began her career as a staff nurse on a spinal trauma and rehabilitation unit.
After earning a master's from Binghamton University, Gerardi returned to the bedside as a clinical nurse specialist before moving into hospital administration, first in risk management and then as director of quality improvement. During a career that has spanned four decades, Gerardi has taught graduate nursing students at Pace University, led the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), overseen a $10 million Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant for the American Organization of Nurse Executives (AONE) and taken the reins of the Tennessee Nurses Association.
"Joining and remaining active in my state nurses' association throughout my career had a major influence on my career trajectory," she noted. Gerardi credited an early mentor, Susan Fraley, for getting her involved in NYSNA, and a second mentor for helping her rethink her role as a nurse. "Cathryn Welch was a past executive director of the New York State Nurses Association, and while I was making the decision to transition from clinical care to association work, she gave me a perspective that I have carried to this day," recalled Gerardi. "She told me, 'The profession is now your patient. Your goal is to nurture it and help it thrive.' That is something I think about daily."
Gerardi, who joined TNA as executive director in 2018, loves the variety that comes with association work and said the diversity of her background has provided a broad perspective of the systems of healthcare. "No day is ever the same, so I'm challenged every day ... and certainly these days," she said as nurses have been on the frontlines of COVID-19 testing and care.
"I cannot express how proud I am to be an RN. The coronavirus has brought attention and respect for what nurses do every day in every setting and in every community across the nation," noted Gerardi. "Doing what is in the best interest of the patient and community in which they live is always at the forefront of a nurse's practice and doing what is in the
best interest of the nurse and profession is always in the forefront of mine," she stated.
While Gerardi is passionate about advocating on behalf of the profession, she said it is frustrating to feel like there is a constant struggle to have nurses be recognized for their skill sets and contributions to the healthcare system and health and well-being of the public. She pointed out nurses often put themselves in harm's way to keep the public safe, even when there isn't a pandemic. "Battling ambiguous and antiquated laws and regulations that limit the nursing practice and the direct relationship between a nurse and his or her patient is also one of the greater challenges," she added.
As she and colleagues pour energy into the continued fight to change scope-of-practice laws in Tennessee, Gerardi recognizes and appreciates the need to recharge. "I learned early in my career from my sage mentor Susan that I must separate my professional life and my personal life as much as possible in order to find a balance between them," she said. "I also learned to use my vacation time to help with the self-care that is necessary to achieve that balance. 'Vacation' is not a bad word," she added with a laugh.
Instead, time off is the perfect time to connect with family and friends ... and to explore the world. "I have been lucky to have visited every continent except Antarctica, and I hope to do that someday," she said. Gerardi's large Italian family provides plenty of nieces and nephews to take on special trips for graduations or other milestones. "It's fun to see my love for
something being passed on." She relishes opening new
worlds for the next generation. On a trip to Australia, her godchild fell in love with the country and expressed a desire to live there someday. Today, she works for a food science company in Sydney.
Vacation doesn't have to be exotic, however. Gerardi and her brother have a cabin on Loon Lake in the Adirondack Mountains where reading, campfires and roasting marshmallows attract multigenerational gatherings. She also plans to retire in Fort Myers, Fla. "As soon as I go over the bridge, I feel my whole body relax," she said with a smile.
But there's still plenty of work left to do before that day comes, and Gerardi is eager to continue her mission to uplift nurses and the profession.