One of the ways ONS celebrated Oncology Nursing Month in May was with CEO Brenda Nevidjon, MSN, RN, FAAN, interviewing U.S. Representative Donna Shalala (D-FL) about advocacy and nursing. Miami ONS Chapter Board Member Lissette Gomez-Rios, MSN, OCN®, ONS Director-at-Large Anne Ireland, MSN, RN, AOCN®, CENP, and I also had the opportunity to ask Shalala some questions.

Nancy Houlihan, MA, RN, AOCN®, ONS President
Nancy Houlihan, MA, RN, AOCN®, ONS President

Representative Shalala has a long history of championing nurses: she served as director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under President Bill Clinton and was the president of three universities with large schools of nursing. She also chaired the panel for the National Academy of Medicine (formerly known as the Institute of Medicine) that developed its report on the future of nursing in 2010.

During the interview, Shalala highlighted the extraordinary role nurses have served during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and the worldwide recognition of their contribution and impact on health care. Shalala advised that nurses leverage that acclaim and appreciation to gain influence with her colleagues in Congress. She explained that legislators appreciate nurses because they hear from their constituents that nurses relay the voice and concerns of the patient. She said that nurses need to be more politically active so community and state policymakers can hear their voice when making decisions about local healthcare legislation and the scope of nursing practice.

Advocacy is an ONS core value. Through our Center for Advocacy and Health Policy and the leadership of the Board of Directors, ONS supports many cancer care and healthcare bills annually through our position statements as well as our representatives in Washington, DC, including ONS Public Affairs Director Alec Stone and our Capitol Hill Gang of Virginia-, Maryland-, and DC-area ONS members. 

Many of you have participated in our annual Hill Days, which trains ONS members on speaking about the ONS Health Policy Agenda on cancer prevention, access to care, and nursing education. Then, attendees have the opportunity to meet directly with legislators and their staff in their Capitol Hill offices. 2020 is a bit different because of the busy national election cycle and regulations around social distancing for COVID-19, so ONS has moved this grassroots advocacy to a series of teleconferences with key legislators instead.  

Former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill (D-MA) was known for saying that “all politics is local.” Look for opportunities in your local and state governments to speak out for nursing and our patients. We have the attention of the world right now; let’s use it and make our voices heard.

Watch the interview with Representative Shalala or listen to the highlights on the Oncology Nursing Podcast.

To engage your local chapter in events with your legislators, contact ONS Public Affairs Director Alec Stone at or 412-859-6401.