Your Words Matter, So Use Them to Advocate for Change

September 16, 2019 by Laura Fennimore DNP, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, 2018-2020 ONS President
Laura Fennimore, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, ONS President

When my son was in nursery school, his teachers encouraged him to express his frustration with others by “using his words” rather than lashing out in some other nonproductive way.

I was reminded of the power of words delivered by a compelling speaker when watching a video of the comedian and advocate, Jon Stewart, testifying before the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee about the needs of 9/11 first responders. His passion was evident in his voice, in his emotionally laden pauses, and in the words that he used to describe the ongoing healthcare concerns of those heroes. His strong testimony moved the committee and House to support the legislation, pass it on to the Senate, and send it to President Trump’s desk, where he signed it into law in July 2019. Stewart told a convincing story to bring others to action.

The business literature refers to this kind of statement as an elevator pitch: a short, compelling message designed to influence the actions of another with just a few key points and a call for action. Framing effective messages is a leadership skill that can be learned and begins with a clear statement of the problem followed by rationale for why the problem exists and the offer of a possible solution. An effective advocacy message or elevator pitch closes with a request to meet with the stakeholder and follow up with additional information about your idea, plan, or position.

Oncology nurses use these skills every time they advocate on behalf of their patients for quality cancer care with other healthcare providers and policy makers. This month, 100 ONS members will have a chance to learn how to deliver clear, concise messages with confidence, strong rationale, and a request for action during the 2019 ONS Capitol Hill Days in Washington, DC. ONS members will share key messages about the need for palliative care education, parity for oral cancer therapies, and funding for nursing education and research.

Nurses will tell their stories through compelling messages based on their experiences with patients and caregivers. Those heartfelt messages (a) outline the problems or issues, (b) describe the facts behind the issues, (c) illustrate potential solutions offered by key legislation addressed in the ONS Health Policy Agenda, and (d) conclude with a specific ask for cosponsorship and an opportunity to serve as a resource for the legislative team.

U.S. Representative Lauren Underwood from Illinois’ 14th Congressional District is one of two nurses currently serving in Congress. She offered great advice to nurses headed to Capitol Hill earlier in 2019 for members of the American Nurses Association (, noting that “the most powerful thing you have are your stories.”

Are you ready to use your words to tell stories about the healthcare needs of your patients and oncology nurses? What stories or elevator pitches will you use to influence a key stakeholder in your life? Consider using this simple framework the next time you want to advocate for change in your practice, profession, or personal life. It works, and your words matter.

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