"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
- Margaret Mead, an American cultural anthropologist
Historically, nurses have always been in the forefront of grassroots movements, and today that tradition continues.
As a nurse who wants all Americans to have access to healthcare, I wanted to do something about our nation's healthcare crisis, but didn't where to start.
I thought what could I do to make a difference? I'm just one person; and I'm "just a nurse."
Then one day, while surfing the Web, I read an op-ed in the New York Times written by Teri Mills, in which she called for the establishment of the Office of the National Nurse.
Mills' proposal would improve the nation's health through preventative care, increased public awareness of health care issues, and encourage individuals to pursue and remain in nursing careers.
I liked what I read, so I wrote to Mills and told her that I wanted to get involved to make her proposal a reality.
Having a great idea is just the beginning - it takes action to create change.
So Mills and I formed the National Nurse Team, and with other nurses from around the country who wanted change, we headed for Capitol Hill.
On the Hill
During our first trip to Washington, DC, we were invited to meet with three nurses who are members of the House of Representatives.
Our first stop was at the office of Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY). McCarthy knows firsthand the power of a grassroots movement.
McCarthy was living a quiet life in the Long Island town of Mineola, a suburban area near New York City until a gunman killed her husband and seriously injured her son.
McCarthy worked with then-Gov. Mario Cuomo of New York and President Clinton on the assault weapons ban, and a year after it passed, her congressman voted to repeal the ban. McCarthy was outraged.
With the support of a grassroots movement, McCarthy ran for Congress and won the election.
During our meeting, McCarthy told us that getting a bill through Congress would take a lot of work, and she encouraged us to pursue our goal of establishing the ONN.
McCarthy has always worked to make health care more assessable to everyone, and she advocates for the establishment of the ONN.
She listened to our ideas, and gave us some suggestions on how to proceed. She reminded us that nurses speak with authority about health care, and that government leaders listen to nurses. She said that nurses have the power to make a difference.
For the People
Another stop we made was to the office of Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). Johnson also understands how a grassroots movement can improve the lives of others.
Johnson worked as a volunteer in a low-income community immunization program, and with the help of a grassroots movement, ran for public office as a way of helping her district's underprivileged.
She is now serving her seventh term in the House of Representatives.
Johnson, a proponent of the creation of the ONN, said she supports our mission to improve healthcare for all Americans.
She told us that since most of her congressional colleagues do not come from a health care background, it's important that we educate them about what our patients need. She also said that with the number of nurses we have in our country, nurses could make a huge impact on our healthcare system.
We ended our first visit to Washington, DC, by meeting Lois Capps (D-CA), the founder and co-chair of the 91-member House Nursing Caucus and the sponsor of the Nurse Reinvestment Act, which was signed into law in 2002.
Capps had heard about Teri's op-ed, and agreed to meet with us while we were on Capitol Hill.
During our meeting we talked about Mills' idea, and asked Rep. Capps to sponsor a bill establishing the Office of the National Nurse.
Capps liked the idea, and introduced the National Nurse Act on March 8. In a press release from her office, Capps said:
"Establishing an Office of the National Nurse is a way to improve public awareness of health issues and the role of nurses in improving healthcare. A National Nurse would be a tremendous advocate for nursing issues at a time when our profession faces growing demands for its skills and an increasing shortage of qualified personnel to meet those challenges. I hope that Congress will embrace this concept so we can raise the profile of nurses in our public health debates and improve the quality of public health in this country."
Nurses Know Healthcare
Since making my decision to become involved in improving the health of our nation, the National Nurse Team members have made three trips to Washington, DC, and support for the bill keeps growing.
I've learned that lawmakers really do listen to nurses. Nurses from every educational background are viewed as an authority on healthcare, and members of Congress and their staff members want to hear what we have to say.
Congressional members view nurses as honest and ethical, and as a group without a hidden political agenda. At the time of this writing, the bill has 32 co-sponsors, and there is bipartisan support for the bill.
Don't be afraid to jump into, and start working for causes you believe in. It's not only your right as an American; it's your duty. Working together, nurses can make a difference.
To learn more about the National Nurse Act, log on to www.nationalnurse.org
Therese Polick is a registered nurse and freelance writer based in Bryantown, MD.