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Health Care Policy: The Nurse's Crucial Role

As the legislative liaison for the AAACN Board of Directors, I recently had the privilege of attending the 2003 Nurse in Washington Internship (NIWI) workshop sponsored by the Nursing Organizations Alliance (NOA) and coordinated by Kathleen Smith, RN, BS, CNN.

The workshop, which was held in March in Alexandria, VA, provided a wide range of topics, from the basic legislative process to health care policy. The common thread was the important role of nurses in the legislative process.

To inform Viewpoint readers about the most pressing legislative topics of interest to nurses, the newsletter is presenting a series of articles on nurses' influence on policy making and the legislative process. This article is the first of the series, which is designed to:

  • Spark nurses' interest in the legislative process.
  • Demonstrate the importance of nurses' collective voice.
  • Explain what nurses need to know about legislation.
  • Illustrate why this knowledge is important to nurses.
  • Show how (and when) nurses can get involved in the legislative process.

Taking Action

To use our power and influence effectively, we need to develop an awareness of the legislative process and hone our working knowledge of the political arena. Nurses have been somewhat reluctant to do this in the past. We have for the most part just wanted to take care of our patients with no time or interest in the politics of individual institutions and even less interest in the political activities going on around us. Nurses may feel they are ill equipped to delve into legislative activities, but who better to advocate for patients than nurses? We have been patient advocates in our interactions with doctors and administrators, why not with Congress?

No Glass Ceiling

The articles in this series will serve as guides to developing your political awareness. Hopefully, they will also spark your interest and awareness of the important role nurses play in shaping and influencing health care policy. We must aim high to achieve change: who knows, our next senator, representative, or United States president could be an ambulatory care nurse from AAACN.

AAACN is committed through our mission and strategic plan to be the "Voice of Ambulatory Care Nursing." This is accompished by providing members with the latest legislative news that affects ambulatory care nursing and by supporting and partnering with nursing colleagues to influence health care policy making.

Who better to speak to policy makers on behalf of nurses than nurses? Who has a better understanding of what nurses do and need than nurses? Who better to address the health care concerns of our patients than nurses? If not nurses, whom? If not now, when? AAACN supports each of you to seriously consider getting politically active.


Getting Started

First, every nurse should be a registered voter. Information on how to register is available online at the US Election Assistance Commission Website www.eac.gov. If you are not already registered, it is important to do so as soon as possible.

Second, it is important to understand how you are represented in Washington. Each state in the country is represented on Capitol Hill by two senators (in the Senate). Each state also has representatives in the House; the number of representatives is based on the state's population.

There are several easy ways to find out the names of your elected government officials. These include:

  • The Blue Pages at the front of your telephone directory
  • Websites: To find your U.S. senators go to www.senate.gov; to find your representatives go to www.house.gov. You can also call the U.S. Capitol switchboard operator at (202) 224-3121 for the Senate and (202) 225-3121 for the House.

Next, it is a good idea to enter these names and numbers in your PDA (personal digital assistant) or your day-planner for easy access.

We hope you are encouraged by the ease of these important first steps. Rest assured that there are many AAACN and nursing colleagues to assist you as you explore the legislative process. The personal rewards you will experience for taking action will give you a tremendous sense of achievement.

Regina C. Phillips, MSN, RN

Reference
Leavitt, J.K. Linking practice, policy and politics: Using nursings power to improve health. Presentation: Arlington, VA. Nurse in Washington Internship (NIWI) Program.


Original Publication
Phillips, R. (2003). Health Care Policy: The Nurse's Crucial Role. Viewpoint, 25(3), 3-4.