You may ask why advocacy and health policy issues are important to you as a nurse. The United States has a participatory democracy and representative government. Becoming involved is not only a right, but also a responsibility. Democracy requires participation by citizens to assure the public’s voice is heard and policy is enacted that reflects public opinion. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees certain rights or freedoms such as speaking your opinion, the right to assemble peacefully as public groups, and the right to petition the government. All citizens, as a representative of his or her own personal beliefs, have the right to advocate for, or publicly support and submit an issue or idea to legislators or their staff and urge their support on a certain position because:
- The U.S. Constitution grants every citizen the right to tell our elected officials our concerns and to take action to advocate for those issues.
- Our elected policymakers work for us, the citizens.
- Our tax dollars pay their salaries, their health insurance, retirement benefits, and travel expenses among other budget items.
- As their "employer”, we have every right to hold policy makers accountable for their actions, tell them what we want them to do, and give feedback on how we think they are doing at their jobs. The ultimate job review you can give your public officials is by voting – either returning them to office or ending their service.
- Nurses are viewed as one of the most trusted professions. The public, media and policy makers listen when nurses speak with one voice on a topic.
- Congress needs the expertise of nurses. Occupational and environmental health nurses understand the “big-picture” through our first-hand experience and direct knowledge of how decisions in Washington and in our state capitols affect workers, their work environment, their families and their communities.
- Every day, federal and state legislators make decisions that affect workers and the work environment, often with very little knowledge or understanding of the issues and with little or no input from nurses. We can’t afford to let this happen.
- As occupational and environmental health nurses, we must contribute our authority, leadership, and unique knowledge of our nursing specialty practice area to the legislative process.
- As occupational and environmental health nurses, we have the skills needed to do advocacy work and participate in legislative and regulatory affairs. We are good listeners, communicators verbally and in writing, relationship builders, collaborators and leaders.
- Advocacy is a process not an outcome that involves participating in the democratic process by taking action in support of a particular issue or cause. The steps in this process include:
- Identifying an issue,
- Collecting information,
- Identifying who can be influenced/who can make the decision sought,
- Building support by networking with other professional, governmental and community organizations, and
- Taking action.
- Participating in a town meeting or pubic demonstration,
- Conducting a public forum,
- Writing a letter to the media or giving a media statement,
- Developing an issue brief for policy-makers on a particular issue,
- Emailing your elected officials to specifically request they support a particular position, and
- Meeting with elected officials to discuss the issues.
Advocacy occurs through:
- Grassroots efforts,
- Special interest groups, and
- Professional organizations.
Lobbying is when anyone (paid lobbyist, citizens, or a professional organization) specifically urges a policymaker to take a position or action on specific legislation.
Information within the AAOHN Legislative Toolkit (see attachments below) will help you take action and advocate for issues of significance to occupational and environmental health nursing. Your voice will make a difference in the policymaking process to help protect workers, their families, and the community residents and environment around a worksite. Get involved and help shape our nation’s and your state’s action on occupational and environmental health and safety issues!