Nurses Are Taking Washington, DC

Laura A. Stokowski, RN, MS


April 04, 2017

Stepping Into Politics

The 3.1 million nurses in the United States are a large and powerful group—if only they knew it, and exercised their power.

Many nurses say, "I'm not political." Call it advocacy, then. Others think that because nurses don't agree on everything, political activism is pointless.

One thing is true—and this applies to all nurses, politically active or not: Nothing will change if we don't take some steps. Take a problem such as inadequate nurse staffing. If staffing is fantastic where you work, I'm happy for you. But for most nurses around the country, that's not the reality. Complaining—or shall we say, "defining the problem"—is only the first step. This must be followed by other steps: investigating, proposing, and implementing solutions. And so on, step by step.

And if you really like taking steps, you will love marching.

Nurses Take DC

On May 5 of this year—mere weeks from now—nurses from across the United States will convene to rally, en masse, at the nation's capital, Washington, DC. They will gather to draw attention to some critical issues facing nurses today.

The event is called NursesTakeDC (NTDC), and its goal is to encourage all nurses to unify and become involved in improving a health policy issue that affects nearly all nurses and patients—safe nurse staffing levels. Why is this one issue so important? Because everything we want to achieve as a profession, from patient safety, quality care, and optimal outcomes to nurse well-being and career satisfaction, is built upon a foundation of adequate nursing staff.

NTDC is a 100% grassroots movement created by nurses throughout the country. "Grassroots" means that it was forged by bedside nurses, for bedside nurses, to help them shape the changes they desire. And what they desire is to improve staffing, thereby reducing nurse burnout and improving patient care.

The NTDC movement comprises nurses who practice at any level, representing every specialty, who are associated with many different professional nursing societies. The movement is inclusive of all who fall under the nursing scope of practice.

NTDC will be reigniting the 1995 march on Washington, DC, orchestrated by Dr Laura Gasparis Vonfrolio. [If you are too young to remember the 1995 march, it was organized to call attention to staffing cuts that eroded nurse/patient ratios, the replacement of registered nurses with unlicensed personnel, and shortening hospital stays for critically ill patients.[1] More than 35,000 nurses participated in this historic event. You can see a YouTube video of the 1995 march here.]

It Started With Stethoscopes

We have the Show Me Your Stethoscope Foundation (SMYS) a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to unifying and empowering nurses, to thank for this year's events. SMYS was created in 2015 after the now-infamous derogatory comments made by the hosts of a talk show (The View) about a beauty pageant contestant who was also a nurse. The talk show hosts mocked the contestant's monologue about nursing and asked why she was wearing a "doctor's stethoscope." In response, Janie Garner created a Facebook group asking nurses to "show their stethoscopes." Within a week, her group amassed 800,000 nurses from the United States and around the world.

Garner then assembled a team of nurses to help build the SMYS Foundation and polled nurses in the group to find out what issues they were most interested in. The results showed that most nurses were concerned with poor staffing and work environments. Despite many organizations and some state legislatures working to improve nurse staffing, the problem persists.

The SMYS team, hundreds of volunteers, and thousands of supporters believe that nurses must unify if they want to be more effective in improving the problem of unsafe staffing in the United States.

Jalil Johnson, BSN, MS, RN, ANP-BC, PhD(C)

Jalil Johnson, national director for the SMYS Foundation, believes that nurses, and the organizations that represent them, can't pass up this opportunity to show the strength of their numbers:

As nurses, we should not only be in control of our work environments, but must also have the autonomy to design them in such a way that we can care for our patients in the way we were trained to care for them. As nurses, we cannot allow money and greed to be the determining factors in how well we are able to care for our patients. If we believe that patients come before profits, we have to take a unified stand for our patients and for ourselves. Nurses should support nurses; nursing organizations should unify and consolidate their resources to address the core issues that nearly all nurses face; and most important, unify to become most powerful voices in the healthcare system.

If You Want to Join In

The upcoming 2-day NTDC event will unify nurses behind the problem of unsafe nurse staffing, as well as promote and drive the discussion among nurses about federal and state safe staffing legislation. Two major proposals for safe staffing legislation are being introduced at the federal level in the 115th Congress.

Although the proposed federal legislation varies in approach to achieving safe staffing levels, NTDC is a unifying event to encourage nurses to become politically active at any level (federal, state, or institutional) in the legislative and policy making process as it pertains to nursing and healthcare. If you can't make it to Washington, interested nurses can consider joining the group's interactive forums online to connect with nurses around the United States and globally advocating for safe nurse staffing.

NTDC Event Details

On May 4, 2017, the day before the rally, an optional patient safety conference, Nurses Resuscitating Healthcare, will take place in Arlington, Virginia, just outside of Washington, DC. The conference will be attended by 900 nurses and vendors, including nurse celebrities, scholars, and bedside nurses. The itinerary includes speakers, research presentations, a meet-and-greet, and a pre-rally information session.

On May 5, the NTDC rally will take place from 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM in front of the US Capitol to raise awareness on the part of our elected officials and the public about the problem of unsafe nurse staffing. All nurses who want to advocate for themselves and their patients are invited to participate. Follow the movement on Facebook or on Twitter: @NursesTakeDC.


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