The excitement is in the air as President Elect Barack Obama prepares to take office on January 20th. People from all over the world recognize the significance of this historic occasion, but how many really understand the amount of work that will be necessary to change the face of the “political scene” in the US, especially in regards to health care? I would venture to guess not many. Fortunately, nurses can play a unique role in creating change within the health care system and nursing practice. We not only understand various facets of the health care system, but we also understand the day-to-day issues that affect patients and their families, as well as nursing practice.
So, what can nurses do to affect real change within the political world? The answer is a lot! Below is a list of political activities in which nurses can participate in to change not only the way nursing is practiced, but also the way health care is practiced…So, get involved:
1. Apply to be a Fellow in the White House Fellowship program. This paid position allows participants to work directly with White House Staff and high ranking government officials to affect change in legislative policy.
2. Attend the Nurse in Washington Internship (NIWI). This is a yearly workshop sponsored by the Nursing Organizations Alliance which teaches nurses about the legislative process and how to influence health care policy.
3. Become a member of the American Nurses Association. The ANA is the largest professional organization in the U.S. that legislates and supports nurses and nursing practice. You can also get involved with specialty nursing organizations that participate in political activities, such as the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses, the American Association of Critical Care Nurses or the Academy of Medical Surgical Nurses, to name a few. These organizations develop policies and work to make changes within the health care system.
4. Research health care and nursing issues that are currently being considered by Congress. Start by visiting the online Thomas Library of Congress. Contact the State Representative or Senator supporting the bill you are interested in to find out ways to get involved.
5. Contact local political leaders. If you are interested in more local issues, you can contact political leaders in your area to learn about current issues and ways to get involved in activities that will support important health care and nursing legislation.
6. Start a letter writing campaign or petition in your hospital or health care organization. This will help to support legislation that is important to your practice. Letters and petitions can be sent to local, state and/or federal leaders.
7. Research the internet for organizations that support issues in which you are interested. For example, if you are interested in issues related to HIV/AIDs, you could contact The AIDS Institute to assist in activities that will further important legislation, or if you are more interested in patient advocacy, you can contact the Patient Advocacy Foundation to locate resources that will support patients and their families.
8. Write a letter to the Editor of a local or national newspaper. Use this forum to “spread the word” about issues important to nurses and patients.
9. Write an article for a nursing journal or magazine. This will help to alert other nurses about important political issues.
10. Call local or national radio talk shows. This is a great way to let the public know about important issues.
11. Lobby the manager or administrator of your own health care agency about issues that directly affect patient care and nursing practice in your facility. Sometimes starting right in your “own backyard” is the best way to initiate change.
12. Research issues or policies that are important to your practice. Provide a short in-service to coworkers to educate them about the issues you explored.
13. Educate others. Nurses know that educating others is a great way to affect change. For those of you who do not have the time to participate in “lengthy” legislative activities, simply find a legislative bill or advocacy organization that interests you and send an email about your findings to coworkers, friends and family. Ask them to pass the information on to others.
Not all political activities require a visit to Capitol Hill; many only require the willingness and creativity for which nurses are known. So, get involved!