Three Ways RNs Can Help Make Healthcare Policy

January 11th, 2012


By , BSN, RN

There are about three million nurses in this country and we should be a force to be reckoned with. If we could channel our energies, form a cohesive bond, raise our voices and our hands we could accomplish amazing things.

We are mere months away from electing or reelecting a president. Many of our legislators, at both the state and national levels, will also be seeking election or reelection. Now is the time to push nursing needs into the spotlight. How do you, as an RN, APN, nurse educator, patient advocate and caregiver get involved?

  1. Know your representatives. – The reality is many of us don't know the names of the people we last elected into state and national offices, except for the ones who get the most press. At both the national and state levels there are three separate branches of government: the Executive (President/Governor); the Legislative (Congress/Legislature); and the Judicial (Supreme Court). If you have a subject that you are passionate about, like nurse practitioners' scope of practice, know who to go to for support, for bill writing and for the passing of laws.
  2. Select a priority issue. – Don't just go charging into your local representative's office with a storm of ideas and demands. Pick one. Do the research. Know where other states stand and where your representative may come in on your plan. Have facts, position papers and the backing of supporters. The goal of meeting with your legislator is to let them know what your concerns are and to let them know that what happens in the Capitol matters at home. Writing, calling and meeting with your legislator is very important. This correspondence is a written record of your views, interests and positions.
  3. Lobby. – Legislators and others who can support your issue must know that there is significant interest in the community about your topic. Elected officials like to hear from their constituents. Is this a topic important to your professional organization? If it is backed by a larger group like the American Nurses Association (ANA), the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), Association or Operating Room Nurses (AORN), the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners and the like? Letter writing campaigns and phone calls are still effective campaigning techniques and easier in these days of high technology. Provide a form e-mail, start a Twitter campaign, text message or send out a computer generated list—the more people involved the better. Nationally, about one in 20 registered voters is a registered nurse.

Hundreds of ideas are brought to our elected officials every year. Some won't make it past their office door. Others look and sound promising and will be picked up by our legislators and become a bill introduced it the House or Senate. Eventually both sides will vote on it and if it is approved it moves on to the Governor or President for their approval. If the bill is signed then it can become a law. This is not a quick process. It takes perseverance, sometimes a willingness to compromise (as Virginia nurse practitioners are currently doing) and dedication to make healthcare policy.

In some respects I feel I am issuing a challenge. Get involved. Our futures, our practices, the laws that govern the healthcare careers we have chosen can be written by us—the nurses. At every level there is room for a nurse to have a say.

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