A NP’s Role in Grassroots Advocacy
By Vernon Langford
As a nurse practitioner (NP), advocating for patients is second nature. Advocating for one’s personal career and profession may be more difficult or frightening. Both involve the same three key actions of educating, engaging, and enlisting.
In a practice setting, one may educate a patient on a condition, engage them in discussion to measure comprehension and compliance, and enlist the help of supporting family or caregivers to get results. For grassroots advocacy of a profession, the same is true.
An NP must become educated on the topics and issues sought to be changed, engage in discussions and planning with colleagues and stakeholders, and enlist the help of professional organizations and legislators. It is important to remember that one voice can change the conversation and, together, a unified voice can change the course of history.
Grassroots advocacy can be proactive (offensive) or reactive (defensive). When legislation is proposed to govern professional practice, it may be met with swift opposition from a defensive posture. This can be effective to mount a strong opposition, but it may be better to lead the battle from an offensive stance and propose legislation to effect change initially. Either process takes only one NP’s voice to get started.
This is why the education component of advocacy is the starting place for any change agent. Knowing what you seek to accomplish, the history of the issue, and what the arguments are for and against are essential. Efforts to expand the scope of practice are put forward every year nationwide and success often depends on how much research is conducted before advancing to engagement.
Engagement is where planning starts to take shape. It is when a NP seeks input from others about how to set actions in motion. Collaboration with colleagues and stakeholders about an issue, like scope of practice, is often a fact-finding mission where the initial thought for change is strengthened and confidence is built about the effort. This is made possible by support from others and being prepared for debate on a topic.
It is important to know what the opposing argument is and how to rebut it with clearly defined data. Once the plan is clear, whether it be legislation to propose or an effort to oppose, enlisting the help of a team is needed. One voice started the advocacy but many voices will see it through.
It is vital that any resources available to help move advocacy forward are identified. If professional organizations or like-minded groups are available, use them. This is where knowing who your friends are matters. Professional organizations at the local, state, and national levels have experience in advocacy and can put their weight behind your idea.
State and national professional organizations also often have paid lobbyists whose job is to ensure legislators are aware of concerning topics and bills. It is also these lobbyists who can select which legislators are open to be an advocate for a grassroots idea. Without a legislator acting as an ambassador for the cause, or a major groundswell of support, it is likely the efforts will not succeed.
Knowing your legislators and electing those who support both your profession and advocacy can influence matters greatly. Your vote can count as much as your voice. This entire process can be repeated with growing support until the desired results are accomplished.
NPs possess unique talents for advocacy if we choose to exercise these skills. It is our voice, both individually and as a group, that can ensure we set the tone and rules for our profession’s future. Remembering the three steps to grassroots advocacy can guide an NP to a successful end result.
OptumCare supports the efforts of NPs to expand knowledge of health policy and application of advocacy efforts. The development of a competence model, moving from novice to expert, expands expertise through educational offerings and suggested activities to develop skills needed for healthcare advocacy efforts.
UnitedHealth Group’s publication, “The Path Forward: A Modern, High-Performing, Simpler Health Care System,” highlights the important role NPs play in expanding access to primary care providers with quality outcomes comparable to that delivered by physicians. To learn more about opportunities within Optum, please visit optumcare.com/careers.
Vernon Langford, NP
President, Florida Association of Nurse Practitioners
Co-Chair, Florida Coalition of Advanced Practice Nurses