In today’s increasingly fractured political environment, with heightened partisanship, Washington, DC, has become toxic. New ideas and common-sense solutions are rare and promoting issues without politicization is literally a full-time job. Interest groups are now finding policy opportunities for success in the state capitals. Some advocacy initiatives have found easier, and faster, wins for their organizational efforts at the state legislature level.

Chapter Advocacy Day

The ONS Greater Baltimore Chapter (GBCONS) held an advocacy day in February and left the experience exhilarated. The chapter organized its leadership and opened the event to 25 members. “One of my personal goals as chapter president is to enable and encourage increased advocacy work on patient care issues, including access to care. I see this as a basic tenant and duty of GBCONS,” Ruth Evans, RN, BA, OCN®,said.

The evening began with a brief overview from ONS staff on the nature of state politics and procedures. Each oncology nurse was given an advocacy lapel pin, an ONS Center for Advocacy and Health Policy lanyard, and an official ONS folder with organizational materials and three pieces of legislation—access to health care, oral cancer drug parity, and workforce safety—to share with elected officials and their staffs.

Meeting With Policy Makers

rona kramer
Maryland Department of Aging Secretary Rona Kramer

The first meeting was with the Maryland Department of Aging Secretary Rona Kramer. As a former Maryland state senator, Secretary Kramer immediately told the nurses how important it was that they be in the state capital speaking truth to power. Far from being an imposition, she said, it was incumbent on nurses to raise awareness for patient-centered care issues to the legislature.

Kramer highlighted the department’s commitment to seniors and spoke about the agency’s support for chronic disease awareness. Health promotion and disease prevention services, including screenings, physical activity, health education, medication management, are essential, and nurses are crucial to providing that patient care.

Shirley Nathan-Pullia
Maryland State Senator Shirley Nathan-Pullia

Another highlight was meeting with Maryland State Senator Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, a 24-year veteran of the state legislature and herself a nurse. As the GBCONS chapter filed into her office, the senator held court about being the only nurse in an elected position in the state house and how her colleagues both relied on her healthcare expertise but often neglected to consult her on their health bills. It was a remarkable moment for oncology nurses to hear firsthand from a powerful state senator about the need for advocacy by her own profession.

The group met with other members of the Maryland state legislature, where they left an ONS folder and spoke about access for patients to affordable health care. Discussions highlighted topical issues such as opioids, disposal of chemotherapy drugs, the national nursing shortage, and scope of practice.

Celebrating Oncology Nursing

“As an oncology nurse, I feel I have the knowledge and experience to advocate for patients beyond the bedside,” GBCONS Past President Nancy Corbitt, BSN, RN, OCN®, CRNI, said. “Traveling to Annapolis was gratifying, energizing, and beneficial to advance cancer care in a meaningful way, especially to patients.”

And the legislators felt similarly, as the evening concluded with oncology nurses sitting in the legislative chambers. Ten nurses sat in the Maryland House of Delegates and ten sat in the Maryland Senate galleries, where the presiding officer publicly acknowledged them as special guests in the chamber. That shout-out is now part of the official state record.

“Being at the state capitol was a true immersion learning experience,” Deb Steward, BSN, RN, CBCN®, CN-BN, said. “Feeling the historical significance of the building, witnessing the right to free speech in the courtyard, being present for session in the chamber, it all helped me realize I can be a participant in the legislative process. You could say, I am inspired and excited to move forward in advocacy.”

If your chapter wants to host its own state advocacy day, contact Alec Stone, ONS public affairs director, at astone@ons.org.