I am a devoted fan of the University of North Carolina men’s basketball team. As an undergraduate student at Carolina, I developed, like many of my peers, a deep hatred for the Duke University men’s basketball team. Known as the “Tobacco Road Rivalry”, athletes, students, and fans around the world have such a strong desire to beat the other team during annual matchups that books and documentaries have been produced on the subject. Regardless of the team’s ability to win, fans cheer for their beloved team, quickly dismissing the talent of the other. 

Much like the Tobacco Road Rivalry, many educators and students share deep favoritism for political parties. In perhaps one of the most heated and controversial presidential elections of our time, just the mention of politics and policy can ignite an untempered passion in many.  As a nursing educator charged with the task of teaching a class on health policy and advocacy the week after the presidential election, I faced a major challenge. I struggled with how I could channel the political energy and passion of my students—regardless of their “team affiliation”—to produce a learning environment where health policy came to life and provided an opportunity for active experimentation and reflection. 


As I thought of the upcoming class, the wise words of HMI faculty mentor, Dr. Tom Aretz, echoed in my head—“Remember to check your guns at the door.” Throughout the Harvard Macy program, Dr. Aretz used the phrase, whose origin lies in comparing the negotiation efforts of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Bay of Pigs, as a strategy for educators. “Checking your guns” encourages all of us to leave our personal preferences and bias outside the door and I found the phrase to be helpful in creating a classroom environment to discuss health policy. 

Guided by Kolb’s Learning Cycle, I designed a health policy and advocacy experience that encouraged student reflection, activation of knowledge, and provided an opportunity to advocate for resources that addressed real healthcare delivery problems seen by students. Using a flipped classroom approach, a pedagogical model where students have readings and recorded lectures prior to class, in-class time was devoted to discussion of current healthcare problems defined by AHRQ Quality Indicators that were below benchmark in the state of Maryland. 

Working in randomized bipartisan teams, students tackled issues such as skyrocketing HIV rates and poor vaccination compliance. They ended the class with a simulated advocacy experience, advocating for solutions to their assigned problem with their colleagues, who played the role of federal legislators. 

The class provided an opportunity to share ideas and solutions and resulted in lively discussions on possible collaborations with corporate America, innovative preventive care models, and a reflection on the spirit of serving others. Enthusiasm, thoughtfulness, and compassion, bubbled up over the heated media reports and strong allegiances to political parties that prevailed just outside of our classroom door. 

Although I may always root for Carolina on game day, I have tremendous respect for Duke and their basketball program. At the end of the day, both teams have a passionate, loyal fan base and have celebrated great success. Rivalries, like my own Tobacco Road rivalry, run deep, but there is much to be learned from, with, and about each other if we check our guns at the door.  As educators, it is our responsibility to teach that message to our students. Infusing the classroom with learning theories and innovative teaching strategies is a way to make a subject come alive—but creating an opportunity for reflection and empowerment makes it “stick”.  Health policy and advocacy taught in the spirit of service, innovation, and a desire to provide sustainable solutions to the many healthcare delivery and education problems facing our country is the first step in creating change. We have the incredible honor, and responsibility, to transform the next generation of healthcare leaders—how we do that, and the message that sticks with our students, demands our own thoughtful reflection.   


Audra N Rankin, DNP, APRN, CPNP


Audra Rankin, DNP, APRN, CPNP is a faculty member at Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing in Baltimore, Maryland.  She has a passion for teaching, practice, and serving pediatric populations in her community. She is an avid reader of southern literature and a devoted fan of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill men’s basketball team. Follow her on Twitter: @DrRankinPeds, Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/in/audrarankin