AWHONN and Lifelines: Leading the Way in Women’s Health


  • Gail G. Kincaide

  • Editor’s note: As part of Lifelines’10th anniversary year, we have invited guest commentaries from past AWHONN and Lifelines contributors. In this issue, we are pleased to publish a commentary by AWHONN’s former executive director, Gail G. Kincaide, in which she reflects on AWHONN’s history of leadership in women’s health and the birth of Lifelines as a part of that history.

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In 1995, AWHONN marked its third anniversary of becoming an independent association. Building on the proud heritage of our predecessor organization Nurses’ Association of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the new name AWHONN reflected a rebirth, a broader focus beyond childbearing to encompass women’s health across the lifespan. AWHONN‘s repositioning was right in sync with federal initiatives such as Healthy People 2000, the Public Health Service’s Action Plan for Women‘s Health, and the Women’s Health Initiative, all of which emphasized the importance of expanding the knowledge and improving the health care of women, through health promotion and primary prevention strategies.

This was a time of enormous change, controversy and public debate concerning the financing, delivery and quality of health care. Provider and consumer outcry about the effects of managed care resulted in patient protection laws such as the Newborns’ and Mothers’ Health Protection Act. Medicare reform proposals concerning graduate medical education funding and direct pay for advanced practice nurses, as well as reauthorization of the Nursing Education Act, were among the hot issues debated on Capitol Hill.

As the professional organization for nurses engaged in the care of women and newborns, AWHONN was uniquely poised to become a leader in the health care of women. Our mission and purpose placed us squarely in the business of generating and disseminating knowledge and facilitating changes in practice that would improve health care outcomes. There was growing recognition within the nursing community of the power of nurses as providers, educators, advocates and counselors, and consumers. And, with the power of more than 22,000 members, we had a mandate to engage our membership in becoming more proactive to speak out and make a difference.

Committed to challenging the status quo in business operations and service delivery, we began to explore innovative strategies for providing our nurses with the practical tools and resources they needed to succeed in everyday practice. We knew that the AWHONN Voice in its newsletter format wasn’t conducive to this expanded content, or attractive to potential advertisers. The newsletter was expensive to produce and without industry support, operating at a loss.

The concept of a clinical practice management magazine soon emerged as a bold new initiative that would help our nurses address these challenges head-on. We tested the concept through focus groups and surveys with members and industry partners. We confirmed that our members did indeed desire a publication that addressed common, everyday practice issues and trends as well as career development strategies. Not surprisingly, we reaffirmed that with staffing shortages, busy lives and time for reading a luxury, nurses needed quality information from a source they trusted in a concise and reader-friendly format. We learned from our industry partners that they desired more frequent opportunities to reach nurses and inform them of new product initiatives and scientific discoveries.

Through a competitive publication review and market analysis, we discovered that a magazine-like product for the health and nursing profession addressing the three specialties of women’s health, obstetric and neonatal nursing did not exist. Most importantly, AWHONN was uniquely positioned to create a specific editorial niche that would focus on trends and solutions in the aforementioned areas. In addition to providing members with the practice information and knowledge they desired, we knew the publication would bolster AWHONN’s professional image and leadership position not only within the nursing community but the broader health care community as well.

In 1995, a proposal was made to AWHONN’s Board to transform the AWHONN Voice from a two-color, 16- to 20-page newsletter to a four-color, 24- to 40-page magazine—incorporating display advertising and an editorial slant toward specialty nursing feature articles. The content emphasis would shift to brief, easy-to-read feature articles that discuss everyday practice issues and trends as well as legislative issues affecting the nursing profession. In addition, the publication would offer employment-related trends and job strategies, highlight new product discoveries, report on innovative research and provide updates within the nursing profession beneficial to members in their everyday roles. Importantly, the publication would provide health care companies and employers with the opportunity to reach our members—affirmed by members as a vehicle for staying up-to-date on essential products and services. By incorporating display advertising, we would be able to generate revenue to cover the start-up costs, soon thereafter break even and eventually generate funds that could be invested in other new member resources.

Last, committed to retaining the scientific integrity and the advertising and subscription base for our research journal JOGNN, universally rated as the number-one member benefit, our business plan linked the two as complementary publications.

With the Board’s approval to invest funds in this new venture, we were off and running, completing the business and launch plans within 12 months.

The last issue of the AWHONN Voice in December 1996 announced a dynamic new publication, AWHONN Lifelines, premiering in February 1997. It was particularly fitting that the launch year coincided with AWHONN’s convention in Washington, DC, “Capitol Opportunities,” and a ramping up of AWHONN’s federal legislative policy presence.

Lifelines was promoted as a sister publication to JOGNN, so members now had two publications on alternating months, each six times a year. Advertisers from pharmaceutical, manufacturing and equipment companies as well as schools of nursing and other employers now had exposure to our members 12 months a year.

Created by and for nurses, AWHONN Lifelines has become more than just another publication. AWHONN’s decision to launch Lifelines marked a turning point in AWHONN‘s short history, another milestone for the nurses of AWHONN. By investing in the publication and the association, we enhanced member benefits by providing more education and practice information, created new opportunities and increased exposure for industry and other health care organizations, and also generated new revenue.

Today, coupled with Web technology and other online knowledge access, members have what they need when they want it. Lifelines provides a vehicle for members to speak out on controversial issues, hear from the experts on innovative care strategies, receive guidance on professional issues and become engaged in the policy and legislative debate on issues affecting practice and patient care.

What lies ahead in Lifelines’ future? Lifelines is a dynamic publication, continually evolving and anticipating the needs of its readers to ensure that it is timely and relevant. It has the potential to become more than a member-read publication. With its compelling content, Lifelines is really a must-read for any health care professional engaged or potentially interested in the three specialties of AWHONN, and over time will become a main feature in nursing lounges, physician and nurse practitioner offices, and schools of nursing. Currently the most trusted source for clinical practice information in North America, AWHONN’s reach and the demand for Lifelines and JOGNN will extend well beyond our borders. And Lifelines will increasingly be cited and referenced in publications of other professional organizations and specialties exploring the role of gender in patient care on critical issues such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. What an exciting time!


  1. inline imageGail G. Kincaide is the former executive director of AWHONN.