by Vivien Mudgett, MSN, RN
On May 15th, an ICU RN was confirmed by the Senate as the permanent head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).  What a giant leap for nursing!  As head CMS, Ms. Tavenner will have the opportunity to touch the lives of millions!

Did you know that there are 3.1 million practicing RN’s in the US right now, and yet there are only seven RN’s in Congress?  Not all of us can do something as major as Ms. Tavenner, but all of us can do something as nurses to affect health policy and our practice.

Nurses are a powerful and respected group. For 11 years in a row, nurses have ranked the highest of any profession in honesty, respect and ethical standards. Imagine what would happen if we all raised our voices and spoke up about health care.  What if we provided input about important issues facing our profession, our patients, our system, and healthcare reform? What if only half of us did? 
It has never been more important for nurses to speak up. The Affordable Care Act and Health Care Reform affect hospital payments, the number of insured patients entering the system, the number of practitioners estimated to be needed in the next few years and most importantly, the way we deliver care.  Additionally, our workload has increased, as has the acuity of the patients we care for.  Hospitals are in the fight of their lives to stay viable due to a combination of decreased reimbursement and a very tough economic market.  
Many industry sectors such as insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and the media, are key players in shaping opinions and outcomes on healthcare policy. Is nursing represented?

So what holds us back? 
Fear, mostly. The thought of speaking to a legislator or engaging on a state or national level is overwhelming for many.  Are there other reasons? Sure! Many nurses have the impression that they can only influence patient care by giving good quality care at the bedside. Others, trying to juggle a work-life balance, think they don’t have the time to get involved.  Some nurses are so frustrated by all the changes and current constraints that they are leaving nursing, thinking there is nothing they can do. This is not the time to leave; this is the time to get active, energized and start making a difference!

In order to speak up, influence policy and have input into our practice, we must step out of our comfort zones and find our collective voice!  It is important to start by devoting some time and energy to learning and understanding the issues. Many professional organizations, including the American Nurses Association, have advocacy sections where the issues are explained. They also have legislative representatives who will speak for nurses, but they need the input from their constituents. 
What can you do?
Write to them, email them, or phone them and let them know your thoughts, suggestions, solutions and concerns. Find out who your state representative is and once you do, go to the nursing organizations you care about and on many websites you will even find templates for letters and emails to write and send that are specific to your specialty!
Any nurse, even with limited time and resources make a difference!  We have to accept this responsibility to ensure a better work environment, safer practice and increased quality of patient care.
The most important part is to take a step, even a small step, to start. Our patients are counting on us.
Vivien Mudgett, MSN, RN

Thanks so much for this wonderful and powerful post Luz!! As you mentioned, there are over 3.1 million practicing nurses in this country yet we are often referred to as the silent majority. Just imagine if we used our collective voice to influence change. Wow. We could really do something good the public we serve.

Would love to read your comments. How do you think nurses should get involved?

Thanks for reading, take care and stay connected!


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