When I enrolled in the Policy course that was required for my DNP program, our first assignment was to post our prior experience (if any) in the health policy arena. There were nearly 100 students in my class and I was dismayed to see such an outpouring of negative responses. Post after post began to go up on the discussion board, with the general consensus being that this was an area that nurse practitioners should avoid at all costs! In fact, there emerged a spirit of tremendous pride about the lack of participation in policy activities related to nursing. If there was a class t-shirt it would have said "Apolitical and proud of it!" I confess at the time I had a grounded appreciation of the importance of being present in the health policy arena where decisions about nursing practice were being made, but I had not yet made it a priority to become personally involved. My excuses were quite valid: lack of experience, lack of time, lack of confidence. However, as I began to read and learn about who was making decisions that would directly affect my practice, I felt compelled to re-prioritize. My fellow students would say "My first priority is my patients!" What I quickly realized was that without health policy advocacy, the possibility exists that I would have no patients at all.
My advice is to start small. Set a realistic and measurable goal. The first step is to find out who your representatives are on the state and national level. Know their names! It is easy to do. Sign up to receive their newsletter. This will give you an idea of what issues are most important to them. Once you start to become informed, the second step is to begin to act. When your professional organization sends an appeal asking you to contact your legislator about a particular issue, then do it! If you know who your representative is and have their page bookmarked in your browser, it takes no time at all to send a short message. It is so empowering to receive personalized feedback when you do this. You realize your opinion does matter. The third step is to initiate your own action. Schedule an appointment to talk to your legislator. Tell them who you are and what you do. Volunteer to help with their campaign. When an article on something relevant comes in, send it to them. Get to know the staff. Soon you will be their "go-to" person for expert opinion.
As you get more involved and see how decisions are made that directly affect your practice, it will empower you to increase your involvement. Set realistic, attainable goals. Make it a priority to do more this year than you did last year. Designate two or three days a year as your advocacy days. Schedule it in advance. Clear your calendar and make it a priority to become involved. My journey took me from the back row of a health policy course to the offices of my senators in Washington DC, speaking to them both, advocating for nurse practitioners. Dare yourself to become educated on health policy. Advocacy is a privilege we have, and we need every nurse practitioner to speak up for the future of health care.