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Nurses & Politics: Making a Difference

A real nurse“The very elements of what constitutes good nursing are as little understood for the well as for the sick. The same laws of health or of nursing, for they are in reality the same, obtain among the well as among the sick. The breaking of them produces only a less violent consequence among the former than among the latter, – and this sometimes, not always.” –Florence Nightingale

The insights of Nightingale continue to be amazingly applicable to today’s health care issues. The past, present, and future of health care and nursing have several spheres of influence, including government, public policy, and workplace. The word “politics” often evokes negative emotions based upon what may be happening on a federal or state governmental level. Partisanship and well-publicized divisions between political parties and even individual government officials can cause us to shy away from becoming involved in the political arena. The fact remains, however, that what these individuals do in their roles can directly impact what we do in ours, and even the good of the society as a whole. Take a step back and ask – is it acceptable to ignore politics, especially in times of recent and pending health care reform legislation? Shouldn’t we be as informed as possible with regards to what’s going on out there beyond our own workplace?

I have taught several leadership courses to nursing students. One of my favorite activities in that class is to ask the students to access a legislative website, whether on a national or state level. I ask them to choose one piece of legislation relevant to health care that has been introduced, and follow its progress during the weeks of the course. Much of the legislation that is introduced does not get any further than assigned to a committee for discussion, however the students still have the experience of monitoring what is happening in that legislative body. I have found that not only do they watch their bills, they begin to pay attention to others as well. The response from students after this experience is overwhelmingly positive. The vast majority has never seen how the legislative process works, monitored the status of a bill and has never contacted their legislators. They had no idea that it was so easy to do these things.

Nurses can be involved and make a difference in the political process in a variety of ways. We can impact our profession by paying attention to legislation that is introduced and by contacting our elected representatives to voice our opinions, whether they are positive or negative. Technology has made this process convenient via the use of the Internet and E-mail. Membership in professional organizations is another way to make an impact in the political arena. The old adage that there is strength in numbers is true in many cases. Those who make laws have power, but so do we. Sometimes we forget that.

We have made great strides in recent years in terms of political activism. I suspect that Nightingale would still say that we have more to do. What we do in the political arena potentially impacts all patients, those who need immediate attention and those who do not but may need it at another time. As the quote above implies, the rules and laws should need to apply to protect everyone. Isn’t that what being a true patient advocate is all about?

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