Political Advocacy: A Professional Responsibility for Nurses

Tuesday, 31 October 2017: 8:20 AM

Judith Ann Young, DNP
Community and Health Systems, Indiana University School of Nursing, Indianapolis, IN, USA

Learning Objective 1: Appraise the nursing role of political advocate and its impact upon patient safety.

Learning Objective 2: Identify that political advocacy is within the nursing role, scope of nursing practice and competence.

Patient advocacy refers to nursing action guided by professional standards, and the code of ethics (Taylor, 2016). This action is considered a required component of professional practice due to patient vulnerability inherent with illness, unfamiliarity with health related information, and the complexity of the healthcare system (Hahn, 2010). Nurses are strategically positioned at point of care for the advocacy role due to the relationship established when patient wishes are determined (Hanks, 2008) and the professional responsibility to support patient autonomy and self- determination with health care decisions. The professional nursing code of ethics also requires political activism to uphold public safety through the evaluation of the impact of health policy upon patient care (Hahn, 2010; Taylor, 2016).

Overall, the influence of nursing upon health policy has been minimal (Short, 2007). Historical examples of nursing advocacy include the actions of Florence Nightingale, Margaret Sanger, and Dorothea Dix. Nightingale utilized the media to inform the public of the conditions endured by soldiers injured in the Crimea war, to gain the resources she needed. Margaret Sanger advocated for women’s rights and birth control at a time when such discussions were not protected by legislation, eventually leading to the founding of Planned Parenthood. Dorothea Dix advocated for the mentally ill which resulted in legislation protecting this vulnerable group (D'Antonio, et al., 2010: Zauderer, et al., 2009). Current examples include research that resulted in policy development relating to nurse staffing (Aiken, et al., 2002).

Despite the professional requirement, and legislative decisions that impact nursing education, practice and research, nurses have generally remained reluctant to assume an advocacy role and refrain from speaking out for social, health related legislation diminishing nursing image and political influence (Taylor, 2016). Nurses consider political activism not related to their role and outside scope of nursing practice and competence (Taylor). Nurses must be empowered to engage in decision making relating to healthcare concerns and contact representatives sharing support or concerns (Mc Murray, 2010). Nursing’s unique perspective provides an informed nursing voice to act as the patient advocate to influence decision making in the political arena (Primomo & Bjorling, 2013). The importance for political advocacy can be strengthened through experiential learning. Educational strategies applied to bedside clinicians and student students will be presented.