Jennifer Larson, NurseZone feature
Pennsylvania, Hawaii, California, Georgia, Maryland, Arizona, Minnesota. These
are just some of the states where nurses are serving their patients in a new
setting: the state legislature.
people, the link between nursing and politics might seem tenuous at best, but to
those who have put aside their stethoscopes for an office in their state
capitals, the relationship is a natural one. Nurses are in the unique position
of representing the interests of their fellow nurses and the health care needs
of the general public.
should be a link between nursing and politics, according to Mary Ann Dailey, RN,
D.N.Sc., a Republican member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
legislature makes many laws that govern the actual day-to-day duties of a nurse,
and those laws may affect nursing care in a negative manner,” she said.
they approach the job from the perspective of a nurse, nurse legislators can
represent the interests of their colleagues in a way that no one else can,
legislators like Dailey say. They understand the challenges that nurses face in
today’s health care environment, a world in which hospitals desperately need
more nurses and nurses fret about being overworked.
“I certainly see the
world through the eyes of a nurse, even though it’s been a long time since
I’ve been in active nursing,” said Helen Thomson, RN, a Democratic member of
the California State Assembly.
that many people have caught on to the severity of the nursing shortage,
allowing her an audience with many of her fellow legislators because she is a
agrees and said she thinks of herself as “the cheerleader for nursing” in
her state legislature.
national level, Rep. Lois Capps, RN, a Democrat from California, has worked in
Congress to advance legislation such as the Nurse Reinvestment Act that would
address the growing shortage of nurses in the United States. But nurses on the
state level are also working hard to right some wrongs they see happening to
nurses and the general public.
regularly introduces and co-sponsors legislation to help her profession. Some of
her efforts include a bill to allow prescriptive privileges for nurse
practitioners in Pennsylvania and a bill that affects the usage and education of
unlicensed assistive personnel. She also is working on a bill to give
whistleblower protection to nurses and other health care professionals who are
concerned about something that’s happened in their hospital but may be too
afraid of repercussions to speak up.
does her part for her constituents by chairing the California State Assembly’s
Health Committee, a position she has held for the past year and a half. She
calls it “a challenging position to be in” because of all the issues that
the committee must deal with.
very concerned about the fact that we have so many people uninsured in
California and that our health care system is in crisis mode,” she said.
well-suited to politics, too, Thomson said.
nurses have a lot of leadership skills that they don’t always recognize
[which] makes them good candidates for public office,” said Thomson, who
became a nurse in 1961 and was elected to the legislature in 1996. “They are
leaders. They have a lot of experience in communication and working with
the nurses in politics are registered nurses. Lenny Winkler, a Republican,
serves as the assistant minority leader in the Connecticut House of
Representatives, and she is a licensed practical nurse with more than 25 years
of nursing experience and 15 years in politics.
one of the best things I’ve ever done,” she said of her stint in the House.
“I would like to think I’ve made some significant difference in people’s
has also worked to achieve legislation affecting working conditions for nurses,
as well as broader health care legislation regarding managed care reform and the
prescription of psychotropic drugs for schoolchildren.
attributes some of her success to the fact that she still works as an emergency
room nurse back in her home district in Groton, Connecticut, when the
legislature is not in session.
a very unique position to the legislature,” Winkler said. “I see firsthand
the needs that are out there…. My opinion on health care up here usually
carries a lot of weight, and it’s because I am still actively practicing.”
nurses are not very politically active, Dailey said, but she’d like to see
have enough to do, taking care of their patients,” she said. “They may not
necessarily see that being politically active is part of being a nurse.”
Dailey and Thomson all agree that more nurses should get involved in politics,
whether that means running for office, contacting their representatives with
concerns, voting regularly, or volunteering for others who are in office. It
might even mean paying closer attention to issues that involve nursing and
health care and then speaking up.
have a good world view,” Thomson said of her fellow nurses. “They’re
compassionate. They care about people. They can make tough decisions. They’re
good listeners, and the art of politics is good listening.”
those factors show that many nurses are suited to the political life, she said.
“They’re team players…and the most effective legislators are those who
work well with other legislators and their staff,” she added.
who are interested in pursuing elected office, Thomson recommended first getting
involved locally on a school board or local government group. After all, she
said, nurses have a built-in group of supporters: other nurses, a group that
helped her get where she is today.
only as successful as their help allowed me to be,” she said.
very least, Thomson said, nurses should always vote. “If they’re not
[voting], it’s unconscionable,” she said.
said nurses could also help each other and the public by testifying at public
hearings on issues they care about, or they could get involved in grass roots
work. “I think they should be involved at some level,” she said.
said she would like to see more nurses joining their state and national
associations because there is more clout in numbers.
were a force to be reckoned with, then we could make a substantial change in the
way that health care is delivered,” she said. “But because nurses as a whole
are not politically active…the status quo remains the same.”
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