The primary role of a nurse is to advocate for their patients and the communities they serve, while also providing the best care possible. Though we are often focused on the more physical skills they have, a nurse’s most important asset is their voice. This is the voice that implores to the healthcare provider to recheck their prescription when the orders are questionable or the voice that coordinates services for when the patient leaves the hospital.
And the voice of a nurse extends far beyond hospital doors; it is one of the most prominent voices in politics today. Registered nurses comprise the largest segment of health professionals, greatly outnumbering physicians and employing over 3.6 million nationwide. Nursing strikes often make headline news, and when nurses use their voices, Washington listens.
With the passage of Proposition 11 on Nov. 6, now more than ever it is vital that nurses stay politically active because, if we don’t, we may lose our own privileges.
The proposition allows private ambulance companies to require their workers to remain on-call during their paid breaks. This initiative also requires employers to provide additional training for their EMTs and provide them with some paid mental health services. While this may sound good (because who wouldn’t want an EMT to arrive at the scene as soon as possible), it may prove detrimental to the quality of care that EMTs can provide and increase burnout among EMTs, further contributing to the shortage in their profession.
While it may not directly have anything to do with nursing, Proposition 11 points to the importance of nursing advocacy by being active participants in politics. California nurses benefit from the work of nursing unions. Our paid and uninterrupted breaks, job security, competitive wages and benefits are due to their work. California is a rarity in this regard.
In many states, paid breaks and staffing ratios may not be routine, leading to more burnout and a higher turnover rate in staffing. This further exacerbates our nation’s nursing shortage, placing more demand on hospital staffs while the need for nurses only continues to increase as our population grows older. People who haven’t worked in healthcare are writing legislation that affects our field. Our rights as nurses in California didn’t just appear out of thin air — we fought for them, and it’s important to keep fighting.
As nursing students transition to becoming practicing, licensed nurses, it becomes increasingly important to be interested in what propositions are on the ballot and how it may affect our industry and our profession.
We need to practice advocacy not just in the clinical setting, but also in the civic setting — voting with our patients and profession in mind.