- Nurses have a valuable hands-on perspective on patient care, staffing ratios, and how the healthcare system affects patients’ lives.
- There are a variety of reasons nurses are reluctant to become involved in policymaking. But without a seat at the table, legislators inexperienced in healthcare are making health-related decisions.
- While not all nurses can make large commitments, every nurse can participate in a small way, such as supporting nursing associations or writing to their state or federal representatives.
You might be surprised by how simple, easy, and time efficient it is for nurses to engage in policy decisions that affect staffing and patient care. Many of these decisions are made by policymakers inexperienced in healthcare. Without a seat at the table, nurses and patients become vulnerable to the unintended consequences of well-intended policies.
Although there are many reasons nurses are hesitant to become involved, it is crucial to take steps in nurse organizations or in local and state legislature. We spoke with nurses who have experience in policy engagement. Check out their top 10 ways nurses can get involved.
1 | Participate in State and National Nurses’ Associations
State and national nurses’ associations have groups responsible for lobbying legislators and impacting policy that affects the administration of healthcare. The American Nurses Association, the American Academy of Nursing, and your state nurses’ association are good places to become involved.
Once you’re a member of the organization, contact its advocacy or policy board to find out how to get involved. Nursing associations maintain a list of members who agree to write letters and make phone calls to their state and federal representatives.
You may also be asked to serve on a board for the nursing association as they develop their own policy statements that affect patient care and nursing practice. For example, the core function of the American Nurses Association is to develop useful policies that influence external policies at the local, state, and federal levels.
2 | Attend Legislative Sessions
Shonda Broom owns a home care agency and is a holistic practitioner and cannabis advocate. She recommends that nurses attend legislative sessions for local government or at the state or federal level to learn how the system works and understand how decisions are made.
Nurses can have a greater impact on policy engagement when they understand the process. This allows them to influence policymaking in a manner that legislators and lobbyists understand.
While reading information about how legislation works can give you some knowledge, observing can help you develop a greater understanding (in the same way performing a procedure might give you a better understanding than book knowledge).
3 | Build Relationships With State Lawmakers
One of the best ways to influence someone’s way of thinking is to develop a relationship. Broom recommends that nurses consider building relationships with lawmakers who work on healthcare bills.
You can start a relationship by calling your state legislator or writing to them. This opens the door for a response and a two-way conversation. While many have aides that answer the phone or answer their emails, when you have a hands-on perspective, it increases the likelihood that you can speak to them personally.
4 | Participate on National Boards
After you have some experience working with a nursing organization or collaborating with legislators, you may be appointed or invited to work on a national board that influences healthcare policy.
For example, the Patient Centered Research Institute is a funding organization for patient-centered clinical effectiveness research. Like most organizations focused on improving healthcare administration, the organization has advisory panels and committees that focus on policy development.
Getting a position on one of these boards is not for nurses just beginning to understand policy engagement. However, it is a way that nurses can significantly influence policy development and the future of healthcare.
5 | Collaborate With Lobbyists
Broom suggests that nurses consider becoming lobbyists and focus on causes they are passionate about. If you don’t want to take that step, consider collaborating with lobbyists. You can provide them with the evidence-based information they need to convince legislators of the positions they should take to help improve the healthcare system.
National nursing organizations work with lobbyists to promote agendas that protect patient care and nursing staff. This could be a good place to begin developing a relationship with lobbyists.
6 | Contribute Evidence-Based Data
Legislators should make decisions on evidence-based data. However, it is easier for politicians to interpret medical literature and research with a healthcare background. Nurses can help interpret research for their state and federal senate and house representatives.
Develop a short analysis of the current research in a layperson’s terms with your recommendations for policy decisions that affect healthcare. Attach the research studies so the politicians can confirm your information.
7 | Subscribe to Legislative Notifications
Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know. Broom recommends subscribing to legislative notifications for upcoming meetings. With so many factors that affect healthcare, there may be committees and causes that you don’t know exist.
Most state governments have a free tracking service that allows you to receive notice of scheduled committee meetings, cancellations, and schedule changes. Type “[state] legislative notifications” and your state into your favorite search engine. You should easily find the state website where you can search for current bills and register to receive notifications.
8 | Support a Local Candidate
In the months leading up to an election, you can support a local candidate whose views most align with yours. Depending on how involved you are, you may also develop a relationship with the candidate that allows you to influence their ideas and beliefs after they’ve been elected.
Think about continuing to work with the candidate after they are in office by providing evidence-based information and a nursing perspective. This only helps to improve policymaking decisions that affect the healthcare system.
9 | Educate the Public About the Process and Policies
Most people are unaware of the policymaking process. If you have spent time learning, attending legislative sessions, and getting on notification lists, consider sharing that information. Social media platforms give you the opportunity to gather a following of like-minded individuals who are interested in influencing policy decisions that affect healthcare.
Build a social media following as a nurse on the platform of your choice, sharing the information you’ve learned. Publish calls to action to galvanize the state or federal constituents to contact their representatives and make a difference in how decisions are made.
10 | Run for Office
Although most nurses may not be interested, Broom notes that running for office is a powerful way of being present for important decisions that affect nursing care, patient care, and the overall healthcare system.
Most people who get involved in politics begin by running for local offices. Getting involved in local politics can help influence decisions within your community that affect public health and hospital administration.
As you can see, nurses have the opportunity to take small or big policy engagement steps. The steps you choose to take can influence decisions in local, state, or federal policies.
Meet Our Contributor
Shonda Broom, Cannabis Nurse Advocate/Activist
Shonda Broom is a 2005 nursing graduate from Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana. She spent 10 years of her career as a registered nurse operating a nonmedical homecare agency assisting the elderly. While owning her homecare agency, she continued to work in other healthcare settings, such as mental health, rehab, nursing home, and home health. In 2017, Broom transitioned to holistic services, and she became a holistic health practitioner, herbalist, and cannabis advocate. Broom is the founder of 501c3 nonprofit Coram Deo Holistic Center. The goal of the center is to provide holistic products and services for the mind, body, and spirit. In 2022, she launched her consulting agency, D4N Consulting, to help employers create cannabis workplace policies in alignment with state laws, facilitate employee awareness training on cannabis, and assist patients with a medical recommendation from a qualified provider.