1. Baker, Kathy A. PhD, RN, CNS, CGRN, APRN, BC, Editor

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The year 2008 has already been a remarkable political year as candidates for the Presidency traveled the United States attempting to garner the necessary votes to secure their party's nomination. Still to come will be an exciting campaign between the two leading candidates with the opportunity for history to be made in the Presidential election. At the state and local level, candidates are also scrambling to obtain the necessary votes to win public office. Election year, embraced by some Americans and distained by others, offers nurses an incredible opportunity to open a dialogue with politicians and their aides about our profession, our vision, and the contributions nurses make to our society.

Figure. Kathy A. Bak... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. Kathy A. Baker, PhD, RN, CNS, CGRN, APRN, BC, Editor

If you've not been involved as a nurse in shaping health policy and influencing decisions that affect our patients and profession, 2008 is a perfect year to test the waters. Start by looking for nurses who are involved in politics at your local level. Contact them to find out how and why they became involved and share your interest in learning more. Nurses active in the health policy and political arena can be an excellent source of mentorship and coaching as you learn how to affect healthcare policy and politics.


One of the most convenient areas for involvement in health policy and politics is in your workplace environment. The complexity of the healthcare environment is wrought with policy issues and political implications. As someone who is becoming more involved and knowledgeable about this arena, you can be instrumental in drawing the attention of others in your workplace to critical issues in nursing and health policy.


Certainly one easy way to become more involved is to familiarize yourself with a candidate's or your elected legislator's stance on healthcare and nursing. Visit his or her Web site to become acquainted with what the candidate/legislator believes, what he or she may have done in this area, and see if you can detect any nursing influence in his or her health policies and perspectives. Recently, I asked my doctoral students to complete this exercise, and many were surprised and disappointed to learn their state and national legislators often had little or no healthcare policy initiatives, and those who did often did not reflect much nursing influence. This offers a perfect opportunity to contact that candidate or legislator's office to voice your concern, provide education and information, and offer to serve as a resource to help the legislator become more informed. Many colleagues have shared that making an initial gesture such as this has often ended in the nurse becoming an active advisor for the candidate or legislator's health policy initiatives.


Our own organization, the Society of Gastroenterology Nurses and Associates (SGNA), has a Director of Legislative Activities, who represents our interests in various political and policy arenas. Our organization has become actively involved in speaking to topics relevant to our specialty such as state regulation regarding administration of moderate sedation, advanced competency skills in endoscopy, and colorectal cancer screening. Our current Legislative Director, Sue Potter, would be happy to share with you the activities she is currently involved in on behalf of SGNA.


Being involved in your community's health policy efforts can be extremely rewarding, no matter what size community you reside in. Often the mayor or city council is seeking expert community members to lead community initiatives and policy development. Almost every major issue discussed at the community level has some kind of link to healthcare (i.e., housing, safety, environmental issues). Take time to investigate your community's priorities and see if you can make an impact as a nurse expert.


One of my students recently shared that she had been on Capitol Hill, calling on her state representatives on behalf of nursing. Her representative commented to her that he had noticed something profound about nurses and their interests in policy and politics. The legislator noted that many of his healthcare colleagues who served in Congress always focused on issues related to their pocketbook (i.e., reimbursement), but nursing colleagues in Congress always focused on their patients' and the nations' healthcare needs. I found that to be a profound observation that I hope will never change. Nurses represent the largest group of healthcare providers in the United States. We must become more involved in helping to shape the politics and policy of our country and local communities. We are experts in so many areas, yet we often fail to share that expertise outside our practice area. I challenge you to consider becoming more involved. Select one of the venues I've highlighted and just make an inquiry or two. You may be surprised at how large your sphere of influence may grow as a result!!