NAPNAP Members Share Their Advocacy Stories

Lessons Learned from Child Health Advocacy
Submitted by: Danielle Altares Sarik • From: Pennsylvania

In March, I had the chance to travel to Washington, DC as a NAPNAP Advocacy Scholar – an experience that I highly recommend for all nurse practitioners (NPs) interested in learning more about the legislative climate that impacts our practice, the care that we provide to our patients, and healthcare quality. As an Advocacy Scholar, NAPNAP generously supported my attendance at the American Association of Nurse Practitioners Annual Health Policy Conference, which brought together NPs from across the country to discuss important legislative issues. The topics of sessions ranged from the “Dos and Don’ts of Meeting with Legislators”, to information on state legislative trends, to the most recent research about the role of NPs in keeping patients healthy. The three day visit culminated with a trip to Capitol Hill to meet with the offices of my Senators and Representative to discuss issues that influence children’s health. I often hear from my NP colleagues that involvement in the legislative process seems difficult and daunting. So, I want to offer just a few “lessons learned” from my recent visit that will hopefully encourage more NPs to become involved in advocacy:You are the expert! Although you may doubt it, your everyday experiences working with patients and the barriers you encounter during the course of that care is very important information. While your elected representatives may have knowledge about certain bills or legislative actions, they do not have the front-line perspective that you do. You don’t have to be a policy expert, you just have to share what you know.Policy-makers are human. While our elected officials are powerful in many ways, they are also just like you or I. These are folks with families, hobbies, and lives outside of the office. Approach the conversations you have with policy-makers the same way you would approach a colleague in the office – be respectful, honest, and personable. You don’t need to know legal jargon to be effective, you just have to be able to communicate clearly.These meetings are short. During my trip to DC, my longest meeting clocked in around 15-20 minutes. One of my meetings was under the 10 minute mark. The length of these meetings mean that you don’t have a lot of time to go into details – and that’s ok. Make sure you talk about the most important issues, share a personal story, and clearly “ask” for whatever request you’d like the policy-maker to consider.It’s ok to not know all the answers. You will bring the “boots on the ground” perspective, but what if you’re asked about some technical aspect of the bill, or some specific implementation question? It’s alright to say that you don’t know! Simply say, “I don’t know the answer to that question, but I’ll put you in touch with someone who does”, and then follow through.NPs are expert clinicians, skillful communicators, and passionate advocates for their patients. These skills can (and should!) be applied to policy and advocacy at the local, state, and federal level. While the care that NPs provide to their patients is critical, being involved in shaping the legislative environment in which NPs practice and our patients receive care is also an important part of our profession. Hopefully next year we’ll double the number of PNPs that travel to DC – I’ll see you there!