As nurses we are actively engaged in advocacy activities through our professional and specialty nursing organizations. However, an increasing number of nurses are informing the political discourse by serving as volunteers for a growing list of consumer oriented organizations such as the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), Susan G. Komen, and the Lupus Foundation of America, all of which have local affiliates across the country. These and other organizations often provide advocacy training for their volunteers along with opportunities to engage in advocacy days.

Serving as a volunteer for these and other organizations enables nurses to use their expertise and strong familiarity with consumer concerns to inform advocacy efforts on behalf of diverse constituents.

Nursing’s engagement in this capacity compliments the current push to ensure that 10,000 nurses are placed on boards or coalitions by 2020. As of October 2019, 6,751 nurses have been placed on a diversity of boards which provide invaluable opportunities to utilize nursing expertise at the local, state, and national level, according to the Nurses on Boards Coalition.

Perhaps less popularized are calls for applications to serve on advisory boards and councils for elected officials. For example, in Illinois at the beginning of Governor Pritzker’s tenure as the state’s 43rd Governor, the governor’s office released a call for applications for volunteers to serve on a number of advisory boards. Some of the opportunities were directly related to health such as the State Board of Health. Other non-health specific opportunities were suitable for nurses to lend their expertise on topics such as aging, the environment, or child welfare. Such engagement

Resources

Nurses on Boards Coalition

Nurses can sign up for alerts and potential opportunities.

The Federal Register

Nurses can check this listing of federal agency meetings and calls for applications to serve on advisory councils in addition to a listing of meeting times and agendas for numerous federal agencies. Free subscription.

is critical to infusing a health-in-all-policies perspective into the decision making process. Illinois is not alone in this regard. Other states and municipalities have opportunities in which nurses can use their expertise to help inform elected officials about health-related matters.

For example, Catherine Waters, RN, PhD, FAAN, professor at the University of California Sans Francisco, is an accomplished nursing faculty member with expertise in community health, health disparities, and health equity. She served five years as a health commissioner for the San Francisco Health Commission. Waters not only used her expertise to shape the policy discourse around health issues impacting her city, but also developed additional skills in diplomacy, consensus building, and budgetary decision making.

In Minnesota, Shirlynn LaChapelle, an expert nurse clinician, serves as a nurse consultant to the state’s Attorney General Keith Ellison. In this capacity she serves as a member of the Attorney General’s Advisory Task Force to Lowering Pharmaceutical Drug Prices. As a nurse, she brings real life examples of how people struggle to secure access to affordable health care and life saving medications.

In Washington, D.C., Catherine Alicia Georges, EdD, RN, FAAN, professor and chairperson of nursing at Lehman College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York is a long-term volunteer for AARP and an AARP board member. In 2017 she was elected to serve as the organization’s National Volunteer President from June 2018 through June 2020. Georges serves as the lead national spokesperson for the organization and helps to shape the policy agenda for AARP.

From a federal government perspective, some federal agencies or departments have been mandated by law to establish an advisory council. Advisory councils are mandated to include a variety of expertise including consumer representation. Many nurses serve on federal advisory councils providing recommendations to agency directors on issues germane to the agency’s mission or strategic initiatives. For example, a number of nurses continue to serve as members of the National Advisory Council for Nursing Research and the National Advisory Council on Nurse Education and Practice. Nurses also serve on federal advisory councils that are not specific to nursing but can benefit from nursing’s expertise in patient care and health care in general. For example, the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities and the National Cancer Institute have selected nurses to serve as members of their advisory councils. These members join other members in weighing in on federal funding issues and shaping priorities for advancing the Institutes’ mission.

Nurses who aspire to serve in these capacities must always be prepared to respond in case there is a call for applications. Keeping one’s resume/CV up to date is key as some calls for applications may have a short turnaround for submissions. Keeping a nominator bank with a list of individuals who can provide an accurate and firsthand account of one’s excellence and contributions is also important. Nominators can be called upon to help verify an application or be asked to provide additional information that informs the selection process. In some instances, nurses can pursue opportunities to serve on advisory councils or committees through self-nomination. Either way, strong letters of nomination are often required.

Gaining additional expertise through volunteerism and service can be a strong catalyst for future opportunities in the policymaking arena. My earlier volunteer work with Susan G. Komen positioned me to pursue a board position creating a pathway to become chair of the local affiliate’s Public Policy Committee.  This volunteer experience continues to be one of my most influential gateways to more opportunities in the policymaking arena. Each time I apply for opportunities, I include this as one of my most valuable springboards for developing expertise in providing testimony and gathering evidence to provide a persuasive argument before elected officials. Nurses can gain substantive and meaningful expertise through voluntary and service activity that will enable them to rise to higher levels of engagement and influence in the policymaking arena. So, go for it!

Janice Phillips, PhD, RN, CENP, FAAN
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