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Politics and nursing: Strange bedfellows?

By Keith Carlson, via Multibriefs

We live in a highly politicized time in the American national conversation, and nursing and healthcare are not immune from this phenomenon. At times it seems that everything is political in nature — and perhaps most things are in the 21st century.

For nurses who care about the state of the industry in which we find ourselves building our careers, being politically aware is simply an intelligent modus operandi.

Is everything political?

Back in the 1960s, it was said that "the personal is political." This may still hold true, and we can now attest to the fact that the professional is also political.

When state legislatures anywhere in the United States are in session, you can be certain that the Nurse Practice Act will come up for review and renewal in some states. And if you thought your Nurse Practice Act was free of politics, think again.

As nurse practitioners and APRNs gain a growing share of the primary care patient marketplace, some physician groups are less than happy with the new economic reality. And as other interests see nurses gaining power or influence that seems unjustified in their eyes, attempts are made to weaken the Nurse Practice Act accordingly.

When these battle lines are drawn, politically astute nurses and nurse leaders will often lead the charge in protecting (or even expanding) the Nurse Practice Act under threat.

Meanwhile, initiatives in favor of legislatively mandated nurse-patient ratios or other nursing- or healthcare-related regulation also need the support of nurses who are willing to take a stand, speak out, contact their legislators and sometimes show up in Washington, D.C., or various state capitals for rallies and mass lobbying efforts.

When healthcare reform is under attack, healthcare becomes political. When school nurse positions are defunded, that nursing specialty is politicized. In sum, healthcare is undoubtedly political, and what you do in response to the issues you care about means something.

Politics impacts lives

Local, state and national elections have real-life consequences on issues that we care about, and no matter where a nurse or healthcare provider falls on the political spectrum, being an informed citizen is prudent and wise.

As mentioned above, legislation that impacts nursing practice can radically change nurses' work lives. And for physicians, physical therapists, radiologists and other healthcare providers, we're singing the same song.

When we healthcare professionals take our role as patient advocates seriously, we can be greatly disturbed by political machinations that appear determined to undermine public health, hobble patient safety, blatantly ignore the medical evidence base or otherwise thwart what we as healers attempt to do every time we earnestly show up for work.

Nurses and other healthcare professionals must maintain a certain level of political awareness if they are to have an appropriate impact on legislation, regulation and other initiatives that affect healthcare or nursing.

Run for something

Several nurses have served in the U.S. Congress, and more than a handful of physicians have also sought political office. Having a seat at the table gives nurses and other interested parties a voice in crucial and far-reaching conversations.

On the local or state level, nurses can choose to run for school board, city council, mayor or any number of important positions. Even a public health nurse may have influence on a local mayor, council member, judge or other elected official.

In an age when more women and people of color are running for office, perhaps it's also time for nurses to step into their own power and run for something they believe in.

Holding political office can be an effective place from which to push for change. It may not be for everyone, but it is one of many ways for nurses to assume important positions of power and influence.

It all matters

Whether you fill a seat on the local school board, sit on the governor's healthcare advisory council or mount a challenge against an incumbent U.S. senator who is no friend to nurses, you can have an appreciable impact on the world around you.

Voting matters. Volunteering for a political campaign matters. Running for office matters. Calling your legislator about an issue you feel passionate about certainly matters. It all holds meaning, and as a healthcare professional, you can mobilize your political beliefs and values in whatever way you see fit.

Our lives are never immune from politics. Thus, we can choose to be a part of the conversation or simply watch the world change around us without our voice being heard. The

Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, has been a nurse since 1996. He is the blogger behind the award-winning blog, Digital Doorway and a widely read freelance nurse writer. Keith is also the co-host of RNFM Radio, a popular Internet radio station devoted to the nursing profession. Under the auspices of Nurse Keith Coaching, Keith's passion is helping nurses and healthcare professionals create ultimate satisfaction in both their personal and professional lives.

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