In early April, Anne Krouse, PhD, MBA, RN-BC, associate professor at Widener University in Chester, PA, accompanied her health policy junior honors students on a trip to Washington, DC. She tasked these BSN students with learning more about advocating for health policy and how the legislative process works.
The students researched a particular issue and set up meetings with their representatives to lobby in support or opposition to it. This important learning experience helps students better understand how important the legislative process is to the nursing profession. They spent time on Capitol Hill meeting with their members of Congress advocating on their issues. The next day they met with the ANA Government Affairs staff to find out more about other issues of importance to nursing.
According to student Alyssa Airtrip, “The particular bill I researched and advocated for was H.R. 147, the ‘Prescription Drug Affordability Act.’ I focused on drug re-importation. I enjoyed my visit and was not expecting how laid back and easy it would be to talk to the people with whom I met. I was really nervous at first, but I learned that anyone with any issue that they care about could meet with their senator or congressman and try to make a difference.
“I was expecting it to be really difficult to contact anyone, and I didn’t expect that anyone would show interest in college students talking about health policy,” Airtrip said. “However, those that I met with seemed very interested. Even if they did not know much about the topic, they showed that they cared by giving me other names or another lead of where to turn for more information.”
Meeting with members of Congress and advocating on issues of importance to nursing is one of the most effective ways to have nurses’ voices heard. Members of Congress are always interested in hearing from their constituents, because not only do constituents have the power to vote them in or out office but also because they can educate the member on important, specialized issues.
Often your representative will support your cause. For example, student Lauren Short successfully advocated on behalf of safe staffing levels.
“I had the opportunity to speak with Congressman Rob Andrews (D-NJ) and advocate for the ‘Registered Nurse Safe Staffing Act of 2011,’” Short said. “This bill requires hospitals to set unit-by-unit staffing levels based upon patient acuity and individual hospital unit characteristics in order to promote better patient outcomes. This was a fantastic learning experience, as I was able to gain an understanding of the importance of advocating and having a voice. Change does not occur unless the public speaks up to support vital issues.”
After Short met with Andrews, the congressman became a cosponsor of H.R. 876, the “Registered Nurse Safe Staffing Act of 2011.” This is a perfect example of how members of Congress listen to their constituents on what they should and should not support. ANA urges nurses to call their members to register their support or opposition to legislation; it can have a big impact.
For more information on how you can get involved, please visit the ANA’s Activist Toolkit and the ANA’s Take Action page at www.rnaction.org.
— Adrianne Drollette is a senior political action specialist at ANA.