The political stars were aligned, a rarity in today’s contentious environment, as ONS held its first organizational advocacy days in Washington, DC, in September 2016. A total of 100 oncology nurses took part in the event to carry the ONS Health Policy Agenda and legislative priority list to Capitol Hill.
A Day of Learning
On day one, policy directors from national health groups such as the American Nurses Association, American Association of Colleges of Nursing, and Prevent Cancer Foundation provided insight into the policy arena and updated participants on the latest health issues. They taught attendees to frame the messages in simple, concrete, and tangible ways that resonate with congressional staff, in preparation for day two.
Additional speakers furnished facts about the National Cancer Institute’s recently released recommendations and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ Innovation Center. Participants also heard an update from Acting Deputy Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Mary Wakefield, PhD, RN, on the importance of nurses in the provision of health care.
Later that afternoon, Hill Days traveled to the White House for a meeting with the Cancer Moonshot Task Force’s staff. Vice President Joe Biden spoke personally about how much nurses mean to the Moonshot initiative and the treatment of patients with cancer. ONS has been an active participant in the many panel discussions with the vice president and will continue to work with his office to promote the Moonshot recommendations.
“The opportunity to have Vice President Joe Biden speak to us was an experience I will never forget,” Jennifer Briden said. “I look forward to keeping up to date on future bills coming up that will impact my patients and I will be better prepared to address my congressmen.”
After leaving the White House, participants attended a reception where ONS honored U.S. Representatives Lois Capps (D-CA) and Renee Ellmers (R-NC), both nurses by training, for their leadership in health policy. They spoke about how being nurses trained them for a career in politics and enabled them to help millions of Americans have access to care.
A Day of Advocacy
On day two, 100 oncology nurses had close to 400 meetings with their U.S. House and Senate offices—many of whom met with their elected officials personally—to discuss current legislation, ONS educated decision makers on important federal health policies, including
- 21st Century Cures
- National Cancer Moonshot Initiative
- National Institutes of Health research funding.
As the U.S. election approaches, legislators returned home to campaign. However, they will be back in Washington after the election to complete pending legislation before the next administration is sworn into office. Topping that list is the passage of 21st Century Cures, a bipartisan effort to fund research, access, and treatment for a host of diseases. Because of ONS’s leadership on Capitol Hill in support, it will become law.
“Hill Days was an amazing opportunity to continue strengthening oncology nursing’s image as engaged advocates for our patients, communities, and our profession,” Denise Brigham, RN, MPH, OCN®, Coastal North Carolina ONS Chapter president, said. “The experience has continued to fuel my interest in health policy and advocacy. A physician is running for my district’s House of Representatives in North Carolina, and I am now volunteering as a interested constituent for his campaign to gain more experience with the process.”