By: Kristin Ferguson, MSN, RN

From March 6—8, 2016, I had the amazing opportunity to take part in the Nurses in Washington Internship (NIWI). NIWI is a program in which nurses from different disciplines come together from all over the country to discuss and receive healthcare policy and advocacy training. ONS sponsored my registration, and it was wonderful working with so many other nurses who are passionate about creating a better environment for our patients by becoming more involved in promoting positive changes in healthcare legislation affecting nurses. 

The first two days of the program took place in the Westin Crystal City Hotel in Arlington, Virginia. Our first panel discussion was with two professional nurse advocates, Jo Ann Webb, RN, MHA, director of federal relations and policy of the American Organization of Nurse Executives, and Lauren Inouye, MPP, RN, associate director of government affairs, American Association of Colleges of Nursing. They reviewed with participants how we could become more active in healthcare legislation and discussed with us how nurses, as the largest body of healthcare workers in the country, can have a very large impact to benefit patients. One of the most exciting speakers was Representative Gale Adcock, RN, FNP, North Carolina House of Representatives. She discussed with us her career path and how becoming more involved in professional nursing organizations had made her more politically aware. 

Much of the program was focused on preparing for the third and final day, in which participants split up into groups based on what state they were from and travelled to Capitol Hill to meet with Senators and Representatives (or their legislative assistants) to discuss certain “asks”. Specifically, we discussed more funding and reauthorization for the Title VIII Nursing Workforce Development Programs, more funding for the National Institute of Nursing Research, and co-sponsoring the Veterans Health Care Staffing Improvement Act (S.2279). 

Another ONS member and DC nurse, Michelle Santizo, and I had the opportunity to briefly meet with DC Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton and her healthcare legislative assistant to discuss these issues. We then met with legislative assistants for the senators of Virginia, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. The whole experience was eye opening, and I plan on becoming more involved politically in advocating for both patient and nursing issues in the future.