By Shawn Kennedy, AJN editor-in-chief—Writing in a recent blog post on NursingTimes.net (a UK-based site), Mark Radcliffe poses this question:
“Do you, as a nurse, feel you have any collective power to influence policy? Are we as well versed as other professional groups in articulating loudly and clearly why nursing needs to be the foundation stone of any health service?”
I thought it was a good question for us here in the United States. Most U.S. nursing associations, nurse executives, and deans are invested in politics. The recent Institute of Medicine Report on the Future of Nursing is the most recent example of how nursing is collectively trying to influence health policy.
But I still wonder how many nurses involved in direct care feel that the politics of health is something they need to pay attention to. It seems that it’s only when it becomes part of the job, directly affects one’s ability to perform a job, or has an impact on one’s financial well-being that many people get involved.
When I was a young nurse, I and many in my cohort didn’t pay attention to things like politics or getting involved in associations. We were new and intent on acquiring skills and becoming competent in our jobs, and politics seemed esoteric and something we needn’t be concerned about.
But within two years, I found myself in court on a workmen’s compensation claim for an illness I’d contracted from a patient. I was going to be out of work for four to six weeks and was concerned how I was going to manage rent and other bills. However, because my professional association had fought for and won compensation for job-related illnesses, I received full pay while I was on medical leave. It opened my eyes to what collective action could do.
Nurses, especially those at the point of care, seem to come together readily enough to protect our rights as workers. But it doesn’t seem to go much further than that. Direct care nurses need to add their voices, support (and that includes financial support), and energy to the organizations and initiatives that are campaigning for our collective rights to practice as professionals, unencumbered by policies and laws that ignore the evidence of our value.
All nurses play a part in the politics of health—the question is, do we prefer to be mute bystanders and recipients of others’ rules and policies, or become the drivers and shapers of a new movement? (Since it’s July, see the video below for a somewhat frivolous take on becoming part of a movement.)
You can get involved: go to thefutureofnursing.org for ways to play a part.