Letter to the Editor by Powell on the Legislative: Searching for Health Policy Information on the Internet: An Essential Advocacy Skill


November 30, 2012

Response by Bethany Powell, BSN, RN, to the Legislative: Searching for Health Policy Information on the Internet: An Essential Advocacy Skill by Pamela White, MS, MLS, RN et al. (March 30, 2010).

Dear Editor:

In the 19th century, Florence Nightingale used statistics and political means to advocate for improved sanitation and hygiene in the Crimea. Today’s nursing students are taught to be patient advocates, but how can we evolve the role into political advocacy? Speaking up for a particular patient is wonderful, but what happens when the rights of many are slowly being eroded?

Women’s reproductive rights are being held hostage to political ideals. Arizona is the latest state to withhold public funding from Planned Parenthood (Castellanos, 2012), an organization that offers health services to over three million low income and uninsured people in the US annually. Their clinics provide cancer screening, STD diagnosis and treatment, and contraceptives, as well as counseling and other services (Planned Parenthood, 2012). The logic behind depriving women access because a small number of the clinics perform legal abortions is confounding. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that 49% of all pregnancies in 2006 were unintended. For teenagers aged 19 and below, that number was 80% (CDC, 2012). These unplanned pregnancies threaten the health of mother and baby. One unfortunate result of the current political and economic climate is the introduction of many bills in states such as Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Virginia (Guttmacher Institute, 2012) designed to reduce women’s access to legal abortions, and to hamper the work of those clinics that provide the community with safe and low cost reproductive options. Outside of the US, the situation is grim. According to the World Health Organization (WHO, 2011) there are close to 22 million unsafe abortions performed each year. In 2008, an estimated 47,000 women died as a result.

The first word of this year’s Nurses’ Week slogan is ‘advocating.’ How can we inspire the next generation of nurses to develop the skill of advocacy at the national and global level? White, Olsan, Bianchi, Glessner, and Mapstone (2010) outlined the steps needed to obtain information regarding healthcare policies. It takes time, effort, and acumen to keep abreast of policy changes. Thanks to the work of the American Nurses’ Association’s political action committee (ANA-PAC), much work has been done to advocate for a healthier nation. The ANA provides well thought-out and researched position statements and has testified before congress on subjects such as the need for healthcare reform and the environment. Additionally, the organization lobbies at the state and national level and monitors legislative action that can impact nurses and patients (ANA, 2012).  Unfortunately, many nurses are unaware of healthcare decisions that affect them, their families, and their communities. Student nurses may be required to attend meetings of their state branches of the ANA, but is this enough? As a graduate nurse I recognize that I have a duty to lead, inspire, and become involved. Many students and nurses are working parents; their ability to participate in political advocacy is often limited.

We must find innovative ways to involve our students and ensure that their activism continues throughout their career. Continuing education courses have been used to keep nurses informed of such concepts relating to medical safety and intimate partner violence. Perhaps the time has come to require a course in political healthcare awareness, to highlight those policies which impact health issues. We can no longer afford to be passive as decisions are made which have the potential to harm our nation’s health. We need to join the global fight to improve health for all.

Yours sincerely,

Bethany Powell, BSN, RN


American Nurses’ Association. (2012). Policy and advocacy. Retrieved from http://nursingworld.org/MainMenuCategories/Policy-Advocacy

Castellanos, D. (2012). Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer bans public funding of Planned Parenthood. Retrieved from http://articles.latimes.com/2012/may/05/nation/la-na-nn-arizona-planned-parenthood-20120505

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012). Unintended pregnancy prevention. Retrieved from www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/UnintendedPregnancy/

Guttmacher Institute. (2012). Monthly state updates: Major developments in 2012, Abortions. Retrieved from www.guttmacher.org/statecenter/updates/index.html

Planned Parenthood. (2012). Planned Parenthood at a glance. Retrieved from www.plannedparenthood.org/about-us/who-we-are/planned-parenthood-glance-5552.htm

White, P., Olsan, T.H., Bianchi, C., Glessner, T., & Mapstone, P. (2010). Searching for health policy information on the internet: An essential advocacy skill. OJIN: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, 15(2). doi: 10.3912/OJIN.Vol15No02LegCol01.

World Health Organization. (2011). Unsafe abortion: Global and regional estimates of the incidence of unsafe abortion and associated mortality in 2008. Retrieved from http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2011/9789241501118_eng.pdf