We all aspire to leave some sort of legacy behind, whether big or small, that will be remembered by our friends, our family, our coworkers and our community. In her lifetime, Elizabeth Sjoberg, J.D., RN, accomplished all of this and much more. As a registered nurse and a doctor of law, she found purpose and passion in her life’s work, making a lasting impact on Texas health care and touching the lives of all who knew and loved her.
As associate general counsel for the Texas Hospital Association, Elizabeth used both her legal and clinical expertise to advocate for state legislation that would benefit hospitals, doctors, nurses and patients throughout Texas. She worked tirelessly, taking on a wide range of issues from workplace regulations to end-of-life care, and her contributions will continue to benefit Texas hospitals for years to come.
A Passion for Nursing
Born in 1949, Elizabeth became a registered nurse in 1968 and began a long nursing career at St. David’s Hospital in Austin. She earned her law degree from St. Mary’s University School of Law and subsequently began working at THA in 1995. Though she was no longer working in a clinical setting, Elizabeth’s experience as a nurse vastly impacted her legal work at THA. She was a longtime member of the Texas Nurses Association, and in her role at THA, she worked hard to foster cooperation between nurses and hospitals.
“In Texas, we have a good, collaborative working relationship between THA and TNA, and I think a lot of that is because of Elizabeth,” said Jennifer Chapman Banda, J.D., THA’s senior vice president of advocacy and public policy. “She really spent her career looking at hospital issues through a nursing lens, which made us able to work with our nurses association, rather than to be contrary to it.”
The feeling is mutual, according to TNA CEO Serena Bumpus, D.N.P., RN.
“I’m very proud of the positive and collaborative working relationship between TNA and THA, and I do think Elizabeth was instrumental in fostering that relationship between the two entities,” said Bumpus. “It was largely due to her efforts that we have the relationship and the ability to work together like we do today.”
Elizabeth was passionate about nurse leadership, advocating for nurse representation at all levels of THA, including the board. She knew the importance of nurses’ perspectives and made sure that their voices were heard. As a leader herself, Elizabeth was named a Leaders and Legends of Texas Nursing honoree by TNA in 2018. Her influence gave her a wide network of connections to draw from when nurse leaders were needed.
“We’ve identified that we need clinicians as leaders in addition to people who are trained in health care administration,” said John Hawkins, CEO of THA. “Obviously, Elizabeth knew that was important, given her breadth of knowledge and experience. She always kept an eye on the ball of the importance of nursing leaders, trying to identify some of those leaders for our committees.”
Elizabeth’s nursing experience impacted her legal advocacy as well, as she encouraged the Texas legislature to invest in nursing schools. However, her ambitions weren’t limited to education alone; she understood that once nurses finished school and began working in hospitals, the work environment was crucial to reducing nurse turnover.
“She really instilled in me that we need to look at it through a hospital lens as well: how we can make sure that [Texas hospitals] are good, safe places to work and that we’re retaining the nurses we have,” said Banda. “We really have a two-pronged approach at THA about growing the workforce and also focusing on retention. That’s one way that the voice of Elizabeth carries into our policies and our procedures.”
A Drive for Legal Advocacy
As a doctor of law and a registered nurse with many years of hands-on hospital and clinic experience, Elizabeth had qualifications that made her uniquely suited to speak to both the legal and clinical sides of health care policy.
“Through her training as a clinician, she would come at the issues in a more credible and personal way, as opposed to somebody who had learned it more through an operational or a political lens,” said Hawkins. “She came across as very genuine, not just if she was testifying, but in her interactions with legislators, their staff and other stakeholders. She worked on a lot of tough issues with stakeholders at the table that were on the other side of the issue. She always handled that very deftly.”
As one of three in-house attorneys for THA, Elizabeth worked alongside the organization’s lobby team, lending her expertise on a wide variety of issues, drafting amendments and talking points and testifying in front of House and Senate committees. She helped solidify THA’s positions on pending legislation, bringing together the THA teams with those at TNA to ensure the two organizations were collaborating on the issues they were bringing before the legislature. After legislative sessions, Elizabeth would help update THA’s New Health Care Law manual for member hospitals.
In addition to general nursing practice and education, Elizabeth also specialized in issues related to nurse peer review, public health, patient safety, care for mothers and babies, health care technology and end-of-life care. She testified in favor of the 2009 Texas Safe Hospital Staffing Act, advocating for appropriate staff-to-patient ratios and the protection of nurses who come forward to report problems. Elizabeth was also part of the creation of the groundbreaking 1999 Texas Advanced Directives Act, which allows patients to convey their end-of-life wishes ahead of time.
In everything she did, Elizabeth kept her experience as a nurse in mind.
“She had a practical approach to everything and instead of it just being a system-wide focus, she was always very focused about how [legislation] would practically impact the patient individual’s bedside and the nurses that were actively treating patients,” said Carrie Kroll, vice president of advocacy, quality and public policy and political strategy at THA. “Having someone on the team who had that real-world experience was remarkable.”
One of Elizabeth’s strengths was the ability to explain clinical issues to those without medical experience, such as lobbyists, legislators and other stakeholders.
“She was instrumental in being able to translate the viewpoint of nursing and the challenges that were being experienced at the time, to really help those who weren’t nurses understand the issues,” said Bumpus.
An Enduring Impression
Looking back, those who worked with Elizabeth fondly remember her for her immense devotion to her work, her charming personality and her ability to inspire the next generation.
“She had such intense passion for whatever issues she was working on,” said Sharon Beasley, senior director of governance and executive administration at THA, who began working with Elizabeth on the legal team in 1995. “She would come back from her meetings if I didn’t go with her, and she would download to me everything that occurred, to the point that I felt like I knew everyone involved. She could be a little firecracker at times.”
Bumpus recalled seeing Elizabeth speak at many TNA conferences over the years, saying, “She was a role model for me as a very young nurse. She presented legislation from the hospital perspective, but she always represented herself as a nurse first. It was her grace and her poise that would capture the audience, and how she presented herself. She wanted all nurses to have that same level of passion she did.”
“She really did have a dynamic personality and a really good sense of humor,” said Banda, who worked closely with Elizabeth as part of the THA lobby team. “She really was passionate about what she did, and that made it fun to work with her. She was a great partner. We called each other partners in crime, and she really was my partner in crime for a very long time on all of these issues. She was just a wonderful person and empowered women, and all people around her, to be better.”
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