Taking a Stand: Why Nurses Should Be Politically Active
Marilyn Klakovich is participating in a Board Leadership Development Program sponsored by Sigma Theta Tau International—The Honor Society of Nursing. She recently attended a National League of Nursing Board Meeting in Washington, D.C.
Fresh from a trip to Washington, D.C. that included a “Day on the Hill,” Marilyn Klakovich is passionate about nurses becoming politically active.
“It was such an exciting process. I am inspired to get more involved,” says Klakovich. “As nursing professionals, we owe a duty to patients to improve health care. We have an advocacy role and not just what takes place at the bedside, but at a broader policy level.”
Prior to her “Day on the Hill,” Klakovich and other participants met with political consultants to be briefed on key issues affecting nursing that would soon be coming up for action by Congress. They later discussed these issues with congressional representatives and aids.
Not sure you’re ready for a trip to Capitol Hill? That’s OK says Klakovich. To be more politically active, “the first thing you should do is become informed.” Join a professional organization and sign up for newsletters or alerts that require immediate action. “As individuals, it’s hard to keep track of issues, but tap into an organization that keeps you informed.”
Learn who represents you at the state and national level. What committees does this person serve on? And what is his or her voting record on issues related to nursing and health care?
Often, politicians must make decisions on issues without the time or resources to conduct adequate research. When you become aware of an issue, you don’t always have to visit your legislator to keep them informed. “You can write a letter or email, or make a phone call to state your position on a particular issue,” says Klakovich. “Even if there is no pressing issue, you can contact your legislative representative’s office to make yourself available for information as issues come up.”
Take advantage of opportunities to visit your state or national capital to learn about the political process and meet with legislative aids or members of Congress. Check with your professional organization or local chamber of commerce.
Attend open houses sponsored by legislators. These typically have a poor turnout, so they may provide you with a great amount of time to get to know your senator or representative and address any pressing issues.
Tips for Meeting With Legislators
Remember, you are important and so is the knowledge you possess. Legislators want someone like you to show up as many constituents do not get involved. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- If you meet with a legislator who does not have any support staff in attendance, follow up with a staffer on the key issues.
- If you don’t know something, admit it, offer to locate the information and follow up. Once credibility is lost, it is hard to regain.
- Don’t let a legislative assistant off the hook with the comment, “Well, Sen. XYZ is not on that committee.” Your response should be, “She may not be on the committee, but when this issue comes to the floor—she will have a vote. We would like her to vote this way and will be following up to see how she voted.”
- Be prompt, patient and flexible. Turn off your cell phone and other electronic devices. If you are running late, be sure to call ahead.
- Be prepared. Meetings with legislators may be only five to 30 minutes. Meetings with staffers are typically 15 to 30 minutes.
- Don’t lecture or monopolize the conversation.
- Send follow-up materials in electronic format, which are easier to store and access.
- Know the legislators committee assignments and seniority on the committee.
- Send a thank you and any promised follow-up information.
National Nursing and Health Care Issues
The following are the key issues that were addressed during Klakovich’s “Day on the Hill.”
Administered by the Health Resources and Services Administration, it provides funding for nursing education. “We should encourage support of President Obama’s budget for this,” says Klakovich.
Administered by the Health Resources and Services Administration, it promotes quality care for all, including funding for all health professions with particular emphasis on underserved areas.
Health Care Reform
“We should speak in favor of affordable insurance, education for health care professionals, focus on prevention and wellness. Advanced Practice Nurses are ideally suited as primary care providers with an emphasis on prevention, wellness and chronic disease management,” says Klakovich.
“Our education as nurses prepares us with interpersonal communication skills and an understanding of the issues related to health care, quality patient care and access to care. Unless we have the resources available, we all suffer.”