With so many nurses in the country, you might think that nurses’ voices would be heard loud and clear. But it’s not always easy to speak up on issues, even those issues that are particularly close to your beliefs or those that can have a direct impact on your job. How can you be an advocate in nursing?

If you’ve ever felt frustrated by a work issue, a professional problem, or anything related to nursing, you can bet you’re not the only nurse who has felt that way. And all those day-to-day frustrations are often related to larger issues going on in the nation – health care reform, nursing shortages, and even interdisciplinary communication. You can address some of the problems with your organization, but when numbers of nurses get together to say change needs to happen, that’s when transformation begins.

Luckily for nurses, lots of organizations make it easy for you to have your voice heard loud and clear, both in your workplace and on a larger scale. Associations and organizations often have fast action pins on their websites that make it easy for you to let government officials and decision makers know your thoughts or you can easily find legislators’ contact information online.

A quick search of nursing organizations shows that most encourage nursing advocacy. The Utah Nurses Association has a “bill tracker” tab that lets nurses see pending legislation at a glance and has easy ways for them to take action. The Emergency Nurses Association invites interested nurses to become even more involved by becoming an advocate in the EN411 Legislative Network.

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In the midst of all the work you do and all the long hours you log, do you ever wonder why you should bother? What  difference can it make for you to weigh in on an issue?

Actually, it can make a huge difference. Politicians aren’t the ones working on the units. They aren’t the executives trying to run a hospital. Policy makers don’t always see the direct impact of insurance costs on patients, of staff cutbacks on nurses’ morale or on patient care quality, or of the upset or confusion that pending legislation is causing. When nurses weigh in on issues, it makes a difference. And when a lot of nurses do it together, it makes an unmistakable impact.

What issues are worth lending your voice to? Think about the issues that get you most impassioned. Is it the mandated cuts at the local hospital? Is it the drop in the level of patient care because of fluctuating nurse-to-patient ratios? Are you particularly thrilled with the outcome of a certain policy? All of those topics are worth the time and energy it takes to speak up to support or stand against something.

Nurses need to advocate for themselves, their patients, and the profession to reflect the day-to-day impact of legislation, health care changes, and variable finances. They are the ones on the front lines who see the final chaos that can result from legislation that looks so good on paper but doesn’t work well with real lives. And if nurses don’t speak up, no one will know what’s really going on.

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When patient care is directly impacted by new or changing policy, nurses on the front lines can tell the story best. So when is it time to tell it? Quite simply, now. You don’t have to be particularly articulate, and you don’t have to write a full formal letter. Often, you don’t even need to be a member of an organization to get involved. You can check out a nursing focused website, look for advocacy, news, or political action buttons and see how you can lend your voice.  The American Nurses Association even makes it easy by sending you potential actions to act on and giving you suggested templates for your emails. They have one now about asking Congress to support home health. National Nurses United has several areas for nurses to take action including a current safe patient ratios campaign.

But you can also advocate for change in other ways. Try your hand at writing a letter or an editorial to a local newspaper. Nursing students can do this as well or hold campus rallies for change.

There are many ways to add your voice so nurses can be heard. Find the method that works best for you and speak up.


Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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