by OGUNMILADE ABISOLA COMFORT (RN)
In a world where the ones who care for people’s health and ensure that good health is enjoyed by all, irrespective of status, class or background do not have a say in the happenings around them, that could either promote health or be detrimental to health,but are merely “observers”, all that is experienced therefore in the health sector flops and can’t be appreciated no matter the efforts put in to cover the shame. Unfortunately nursing often seems to rely on unions or figureheads to represent our professional interests and often feel disempowered or disinterested by the politics of healthcare.
Nursing has come to be a part of every man’s daily life, there is probably a nurse in every home in the developed countries and in developing countries 1 in 10: this is because nursing goes beyond a service or a profession, it’s an act and a thing of the mind. Nurses constitute the largest health care workforce in most countries. An estimated 35 million nurses make up the greater part of the global health workforce. Nurses interact closely with patients and their families and often accompany patients around the clock in all sectors of health care. This gives nurses a broad appreciation of health needs, of how factors in the environment affect the health situation for clients, their families and communities and of how people respond to different strategies and services. Nurses command expert knowledge based on their education and experience that could contribute positively towards improving all spheres of health care. International Council of Nurses (ICN) reiterates that nurses can make a major contribution in promoting and shaping effective health policy because they closely interact with clients, gaining an appreciation of the health needs of the population and factors that influence these health needs.”Nursing encompasses autonomous and collaborative care of individuals of all ages, families, groups and communities, sick or well and in all settings. Nursing includes the promotion of health, prevention of illness, and the care of ill, disabled and dying people. Advocacy, promotion of a safe environment, research, participation in shaping health policy and in patient and health systems management, and education are also key nursing roles” (ICN, 2002)- this clearly points out that nursing involves all spheres of human life.
Over the years, it has been observed that involvement of nurses in politics hasn’t been so appealing and several attempts to identify reasons behind this hasn’t generated much results,in fact, the American Nurses Association (ANA) now includes “advocacy in the care of individuals, families, communities and populations” in its definition of nursing. Why does this matter, you might ask? As registered nurses, we are a go-to group for elected officials, political candidates and anyone else looking to sway public opinion, particularly on matters related to health and healthcare. As nurses, we can influence opinion in enviable ways, which makes it particularly important that we not overplay our hand. Contrary to the example set by some individuals and groups, advocacy does not mean using any means necessary to sway people to your point of view. If we resort to stretching the truth or engaging in public theater, those who trust us may begin to wonder if their respect has been misplaced. It is great to encourage general political participation, and there are lots of reasons that nurses can benefit from voting and being politically active. Political activity is as old as the nursing profession. Florence Nightingale developed the world’s first graphs , and showed them to the British Parliament, convincing politicians to continue funding her work in Crimea. There is a legacy in health care that is the result of political activity, and nurses can continue these efforts today.
Nurses demonstrate some degree of political participation, although their level of political participation is restricted. Politics in this context is defined as striving to share power or to influence the distribution of power among groups within the state. Political activity refers to being part of groups and participating in activity to influence health policy. Political nursing involves the use of knowledge about power processes and strategies to influence the nature and direction of health care and professional nursing. Nurses need to task themselves against all odds and get themselves in the helms of affairs where they can easily point out the loopholes in the profession and get involved in policies that can help reform and transform the health system as it is believed that nurses are the ones in close contact with their patients and they know their indepth needs.
Some of the major factors that have been identified to affect nurses’ participation in politics are however not farfetched from timidity and limiting ethics of the profession. Many would agree that nurses are mostly timid about speaking up for their rights or for their patients and this isn’t cowardice but what has been implanted in their minds from nursing schools. Nursing students do not have the freedom of speech to voice out against some inadequacies as this is perceived to be a form of truancy, which is despicable of the profession, even as much as some are given the opportunity to have students’ union bodies to serve as channels for speaking up for students’ rights and needs, there are still limitations to what they can do as managements of the schools frown against “rebellion” against standing authorities. Nurses face challenges in being involved in health policy development at the grassroots level, as well as at the government level. Nurses believe that they are excluded and are not part of the health policy development process and that they are not present in large enough numbers to make a difference. Other major factors acting as barriers to participation include inadequate political and policy development skills, lack of status of women that also shapers the image of nursing, lack of education and lack of supportive organizational structures.
However, research studies reveal that when nurses are involved and successfully influence health policy development, there are benefits to health care delivery. There are factors which could facilitate nurses’ participation in this regard include: effective leadership, political savvy, education, knowledge and understanding the health policy development process. Other factors influencing nurses’ ability to be politically active in influencing health policy development include finding needed time and possessing relevant knowledge and interest about how political issues affect health care and the nursing profession.
1. Financial support to candidates or initiatives (such as ballot measures): supporting other nurses who are interested in politics will reflect one’s political, ethical or personal point of view.
2. Get involved in a campaign, whether it’s for a particular candidate or a specific issue, making telephone calls, walking precincts and talking to the public.
3. Attend various legislative hearings, meetings and public functions to provide first-person perspective on nursing and how a specific bill or a legal decision will affect nurses and their patients.
4. Students should be encouraged to get involved in students union activities and the students should be allowed to voice out their minds through appropriate media, their views shouldn’t be disregarded but they should be allowed to be part of decision making process that may affect the students populace.
In summary, it is hoped and believed that the only way to have a better health system globally revolves around the nursing profession; also, nurses should be encouraged and allowed to take part in politics, starting with advocacy for their patients and clients. Building a more therapeutic environment for promoting health should be embraced by nurses as one of their roles and this can only be achieved through their participation in politics.