Advocacy 101: my Nurse in Washington Internship experience

Each year AWHONN awards two scholarships to the Nurse in Washington Internship program in Washington, D.C. I was thrilled and honored to be one of those recipients this year, and I’d like to share my experience with you.

The Nurse in Washington Internship (NIWI) program is held for three days each spring and is sponsored by the Nursing Organizations Alliance. It is designed to teach nurses about the legislative process and how to develop the skills necessary to be constructive and effective advocates for our profession, our patients, and ourselves.

The first two days at NIWI were focused on preparation. Prior to my arrival I had been sent multiple articles to read, websites to explore and public policy to review.  We then focused long days of training on how to identify the legislation that directly impacts healthcare, who to contact for additional information, and how to build collaborative relationships with our local, state and federal representatives.  We met with current and former lobbyists, legislative aides, and elected officials. We learned about the legislative process, how to build an effective “ask” (specific issues on which you want to influence your legislator), and tips on navigating the complicated and unfamiliar world of politics.

The final day of my NIWI experience I spent on Capitol Hill. I had appointments with Senators Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran and Congressman Kevin Yoder.  These appointments were made several weeks ahead of time to ensure that I would have a few minutes with each of my representatives.  Unfortunately, the schedule was complicated by severe weather, as a major snowstorm moved into the D.C. area the night before my appointments.  Congressman Yoder and Senator Moran were unable to fly out of Kansas City during this time, so I met with their legislative aides instead.  I was able to meet Senator Roberts very briefly, but spent most of my time with his aide as well.  Undeterred, I shared my “asks”, educated them on the specifics, and provided my contact information should they ever need more information or clarification.

I had three topics on which I provided education and requested support. The first was to request that each of my legislators join the Nursing Caucus, a bipartisan House and Senate committee designed to learn more about issues impacting our profession and how nurses are transforming healthcare in America.  Republicans are woefully underrepresented on this Caucus, and none of my representatives had joined.   I’ll be checking in with Senators Roberts and Moran and Congressman Yoder on a quarterly basis to remind them of this important opportunity.

My second request was for $244 million dollars toward the Title VIII Nursing Workforce Development Program. An investment in this program will help ensure access to care across the nation in the face of an ever-increasing nursing workforce shortage.  Title VIII provides Nursing Education Grants for thousands of entry-level and graduate nursing students and has partnered with over 4,200 clinical training sites, many of which target medically underserved communities.  This request was well-received by everyone I spoke with.  This is considered a bipartisan issue that is popular among both conservative and liberal constituents.  The public knows about the nursing shortage, and support for increasing the available workforce is widespread.

My final request was that they support continued funding of the National Institute of Health (NIH), which would provide $160 million dollars to the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR) for Fiscal Year 2018. Though that sounds like a great deal of money (and it is), it represents a tiny fraction of the NIH budget.  I provided examples of how nursing research is transforming patient care from the bedside to the boardroom and encouraged them to remain steadfast in their support of this important foundation.  It’s important to note that shortly after my visit, President Trump’s administration rolled out a budget proposal that included $6 billion dollars in cuts to the NIH.  I will include information at the end of this blog on how to contact your legislator.  Please, please let your voice be heard.  Cuts this size will be catastrophic to the NIH, the NINR, and future growth of healthcare research, innovation and outcome improvement measures.

My experience in Washington as a legislative Nurse Intern was remarkable. It was humbling and overwhelming to see firsthand the democratic process at work, and I am inspired to continue my efforts to advocate and influence public policy for the betterment of our patients.  Friends, don’t be afraid to use your informed and educated voices.  Your elected officials on every level need to hear from you.  And they want to hear what you have to say.  I was repeatedly told how much they love nurses.  We have been America’s most trusted profession for years.  Legislators regard us with respect and believe that our voice is one of bipartisan credibility.   Please, use the links below to find out who your elected officials are and then take a moment to introduce yourself to them.  Let them know that you’re available for questions.  Tell them how you feel about healthcare reform, funding, and growth.  Advocacy isn’t just meeting senators in Washington, D.C.  Advocacy is calling legislators’ offices to share your opinion, signing letters that represent your profession’s viewpoints, attending town hall meetings, or joining political action organizations that share your beliefs.  And never forget that the most important way of all to advocate is also one of the most simple:  Vote.  In any election-local, state, national:  let your voice be heard.

State legislators:

U.S. House of Representatives:

U.S. Senate:

Voting registration:



Heather Scruton, MBA, MSN, RNC-OB, CEFM


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