The Gallop Poll Social Series (GPSS) is a set of public opinion surveys set to monitor U.S. adults’ views on numerous topics. In the 2022 Gallop Poll, nursing was named the most trusted, honest, and ethical profession for the twenty-first year in a row (Brenan, 2023). Often, politics is perceived as dishonest, unethical, and even corrupt. In fact, on the same Gallup poll, lobbyists and members of Congress were rated the second lowest on ethics and honest behavior (Brenan, 2023). As nurses, the concept of being politically involved may often be perceived as unaligned with our trusted profession and our professional duty.
However, our status as the most honest and ethical profession positions nurses as ideal leaders at the political table. Nurses cannot afford to be apolitical. Politics shape our public policies, priorities, and funding. Therefore, politics impact our patients, the individual nurse, and our nursing profession from the frontline to the boardroom.
Nurse Involvement in Politics
Just over one million physicians are actively practicing in the United States, and physicians hold 19 seats in the 118th Congress (Michas, 2023; Quorum Analytics, 2023). Comparatively, there are over 5.2 million registered nurses in the United States, and only two hold seats in the 118th Congress (Smiley et al., 2023; Quorum Analytics, 2023), although many nurses serve in elected positions at the state and local levels.
Undoubtedly, there is an opportunity for nurses to be present in more elected positions at the national level, but nurses in politics is about more than becoming elected to an office. In 2022, over $97 million was expended in health care lobbying. Of that $97 million, the American Medical Association (AMA) spent over $21 million. In contrast, the nursing counterpart, the American Nurse Association (ANA), spent just under $1.5 million (OpenSecrets, 2023), money that comes from membership dues and donations. This data demonstrates an opportunity for more nurses at the table.
Discovering My Role in Politics
In an episode of ANPD’s podcast, NPD Forecast, I described how I became an appointed city planning commissioner. Admittedly, for the first year of my term, I was nervous and questioned what value I brought to the planning commission, considering the others were lawyers and architects. I listened, read (so many city ordinances and code), and asked questions (even if potentially stupid!). I embraced the feeling of being a novice again.
I quickly realized I bring a different perspective and skillset to the commission. My ability to identify the gap in knowledge among the public attendees, explain things in a manner that all can understand, problem solve, communicate, handle conflict and difficult situations, and apply my leadership capabilities are all assets to the commission. At the end of the year, the chair position on the city planning commission will be vacant. I plan on running for this leadership position on the planning commission.
What Roles Can Other NPD Practitioners Play?
Holding an appointed office at city, state, and federal levels, and even running for office are ways NPD practitioners can speak up and lead the way for other nurses. But you don’t have to become an elected official to make a difference. Here are a few additional ways to play a role in politics:
- Put your advocacy skills to use.
Many NPD practitioners participate in policy development within their organizations, which is a form of policy advocacy. As NPD practitioners, we have an opportunity to go outside our comfort zones and apply these policy advocacy skills outside our organizations.
- Join a professional organization that lobbies on behalf of nurses.
Supporting and actively participating in professional organizations and serving on boards can make a big impact. If not becoming a member, donate to the professional organization’s political action campaigns.
- Serve as a role model for others.
NPD practitioners can support health care policy by helping other nurses professionally develop and understand the importance of our collective voice, why nurses need to participate, and how to become involved. Consider how the topic of health care policy (beyond organizational policies) is incorporated into classes, residency programs, and clinical ladders. I speak frequently to many schools of nursing pre-licensure students. No matter the focus or topic, at minimum, I tell them how and why to become involved in professional organizations.
7 Strategies for Getting Involved
NPD practitioners are equipped to be involved in politics and policy. Here are a few pointers to help you take the first step.
- Leverage existing contacts. These contacts can help connect you to key players.
- Put yourself out there. Be bold. Be passionate, energetic, and engaged.
- Use your nursing lens, and explain what that means. Unfortunately, too many think nurses are only at the bedside in a hospital. Nurses have a perspective of overall health and well-being that could be used to promote healthy communities. The nurse offers a perspective by applying the nursing process to any situation, expertly handling difficult situations, communicating, and connecting with others.
- Develop relationships. Reach out to your elected officials, get to know them, and help them understand what you can offer.
- Be open and say yes! If it feels uncomfortable, that is the perfect time to challenge yourself to become involved.
- Show up and volunteer. Communities need volunteers to function and thrive.
- As an NPD practitioner, incorporate opportunities for involvement in policy within educational and professional development offerings.
I never thought of myself as someone becoming politically involved or ever considering an elected position. However, I’ve enjoyed the journey so far. I am not sure what will happen next on my journey politically, but I am open to the possibilities. And of course, I will say yes!
Brenan, M. (2023, January 24). Nurses retain top ethics rating in U.S., but below 2020 high. Gallup.com. https://news.gallup.com/poll/467804/nurses-retain-top-ethics-rating-below-2020-high.aspx
Michas, F. (2023, June 29). Total active doctors in the U.S. by state 2023. Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/186269/total-active-physicians-in-the-us/#:~:text=As%20of%20May%202023%2C%20the,physicians%2C%20followed%20by%20New%20York.
OpenSecrets. (2023). Health Professionals Lobbying Profile. https://www.opensecrets.org/federal-lobbying/industries/summary?cycle=2022&id=H01
Quorum Analytics. (2023, April 3). The medical professionals of the 118th Congress. Quorum. https://www.quorum.us/data-driven-insights/doctors-congress/
Smiley, R. A., Allgeyer, R. L., Shobo, Y., Lyons, K. C., Letourneau, R., Zhong, E., Kaminski-Ozturk, N., & Alexander, M. (2023). The 2022 National Nursing Workforce Survey. Journal of Nursing Regulation, 14(1). https://doi.org/10.1016/s2155-8256(23)00047-9