One of the most important rights of American citizens is the franchise—the right to vote.
Midterm elections occurring halfway through a U.S. president’s first cycle are a referendum on that administration’s policies. Unable to take out their frustrations directly with the country’s chief executive, voters historically punish the president’s party at the ballot box. Still, politics is about people, and political scientists discourage attempts to quantify reactions and unexpected results. November 2022’s realignment of the federal power structure was an expected outcome.
Today’s nurses and other frontline healthcare providers are wading through the morass of public sentiments stemming from heightened anxiety levels. The rhetoric has spawned a virulent strain of activism abhorrent to democracy. In a November 2022 ABC News–Washington Post poll, 88% of Americans said that they “are concerned that political divisions have intensified to the point that there’s an increased risk of politically motivated violence in the United States.”
As the most trusted and one of the largest professions in the United States, nurses have a critical responsibility to advocate and educate those in power about important issues—because nurses speak truth to power.
Oncology Nurses Influence Congressional Special Session
One way that oncology nurses raised their voices and promoted their power was educating policymakers in preparation for the congressional special session. The U.S. Congress’s two-year cycle ends after every election, and sometimes it must complete unfinished work before the next congressional session in January. Such is the case now as U.S. representatives and senators return to Washington, DC, to finalize pending budgetary, national security, and health legislation. On the docket are bills that ONS and hundreds of our coalition partners in the nursing, cancer, and health communities hope to see signed into law before 2023. The Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act, Cancer Drug Parity Act, and Lymphedema Treatment Act are winding their way through committees and chambers and have not yet reached final passage.
Many of those bills have been a priority on the ONS Health Policy Agenda for years. In September 2022, ONS brought 105 oncology nurses to DC for a return to an in-person Capitol Hill Days after two years. The conference updates oncology nurses on the issues, policies, and environment and trains them how to convey crucial messages asking for support for pending legislation. As constituents and nurse experts, those ONS nurse leaders advanced to the Hill, folders in hand, providing economic and emotional examples of the need to pass the bills during the current congressional session. The oncology nurses met directly with their Democratic and Republican elected officials, representatives, and congressional staff, taking bipartisan legislation to offices that hold the fate of each bill in their vote. And those offices were grateful in return, hailing nurses’ service and supporting the message that more needs to be done to “end cancer as we know it today.”
Nurses’ Power Prevails as the Next U.S. Congress Begins
In early January 2023, the U.S. House and Senate’s 118th Congress will gavel newly elected members into both chambers and the people’s work will begin anew. Some ONS bills will inevitably not become law in 2022 and will have to be reintroduced in 2023. Policymakers must prioritize those pending bills with new issues, and ONS and the advocacy community may need to renegotiate sponsorship. However, the relationships that ONS nurses built during the September Hill Day meetings give the nursing community an advantage in gaining their representatives’ support.
Our system allows for continued participatory democracy, but it needs nurses. “There is enormous potential for nurses to shift the political narrative toward equity and health,” the American Nurses Association said. “Nursing practice is defined by embracing innovation, managing complex systems, participating in relational health, communicating clearly, and developing comprehensive plans of care. We have a unique ability to distill a macro-perspective on health to deliver safe and effective clinical care to patients with their individual needs. This perspective could significantly contribute to American politics.”
Being siloed is inefficient and dangerous. Under their “most ethical and trusted” moniker, nurses have a responsibility to carry the patient-centered care, evidence-based practice, symptom-management education message to decision-makers. On the surface it seems a great burden for one segment of society to bare, but nurses already advocate, educate, and influence in their daily work. Transferring that expertise to the policy environment for those same priorities is a natural evolution in a profession that has been a public leader for nearly 200 years.
Nurses must be alert and active in health policy. The pandemic has demonstrated that frontline workers carry the burden of responsibility for public health. Those heroes and heroines must now incorporate another responsibility into their repertoire—that of a politically attuned policy leader and regular voter. That is how real change is ultimately made.