Political astuteness enhances nurses’ professional reputation, and persistence is a necessary virtue for nurses to have for successful political action. Nurses must take responsibility for legislation that impacts the profession's destiny by providing education when necessary, promoting professional values and system needs, and serving as role models and mentors to others. Becoming politically active, nurses can present a unified voice for advocacy and assist the profession's role as a major influence in health policy issues.
The state of the country's health is a culmination of factors from recent events to actions taken years earlier. Achieving significant improvement of the public's health is a daunting task, in no small part because of the various levels of political activity (local, state, and federal), multiple players, and ongoing underlying social problems (Figure 1).
Dr. Henry Kissinger says, “A frustrating paradox is faced by policy-makers. When their scope for action is widest, their knowledge is often minimal, and when their knowledge is greatest, their scope for action has frequently disappeared” (Mason and Leavitt 1998). Promotion of health policy issues is important and as addictions nurses we must consistently work towards this end. Nurses can influence health policy with their numbers alone, not to mention the wealth of information they have about health issues. Combining numbers, knowledge, and consistent efforts of promotion of the health issue is the key that Dr. Kissinger refers to, that influences health policy.
As addictions nurses, we have the knowledge about our patient population and the services needed to provide quality care and services for optimal recovery. Nurses must be patient in advancing their agenda, use their professional organizations to shape standards of practice, and seize on the membership numbers to weigh in about pertinent health issues. The more nurses participating and supporting professional nursing organizations, the greater the profession's wealth of information, and the more significant nursing can become in influencing health policy, particularly substance abuse/addictions-related health policy (Figure 2). Current state and federal legislative activity can be found on many web-sites. One place to start is at the American Nurses Association website-/? http.//www.nursingworld.org. For addictions you can access legislative initiatives at http://www.SAMHSA.gov. Being aware of current legislative health issues will help you in selecting your health issues to promote to your legislators.