Promoting the NP Profession - More Than Just Good Clinicians…..
Nurse practitioners are known for providing excellent clinical care. Studies have demonstrated the effectiveness and excellent outcomes of NP-delivered care. We listen to our patients, take time with them, and advocate for them. Patients choose us and stay with us because of these strengths. Yet, today, we need to be more than just good clinicians. Health care in the United States has become more than just taking care of patients. It is about access to care, affordability, reimbursement for care, cost effectiveness, and more. A whole political realm now controls what we do and how we do it. The NP profession doesn’t exist in a vacuum. We can’t just go into the office or clinic every day and simply do our job seeing patients and expect that the healthcare system in this country will function efficiently and effectively. Being a good clinician is no longer enough. We need to participate in the evolution of the healthcare system in the U.S.
Nurse practitioners are well positioned to be key players in both the reform and the politics of health care. We have many ideas and skills that can be effective tools in healthcare reform. Providing excellent care, with good outcomes, is a big first step. We must continue to do that and to document how effective our care is so we can show the results. But we must all get beyond our clinical care and do something more to help change the healthcare system in this country. Hillary Rodham Clinton, in a speech she gave on women’s rights, quoted a student in India who said, “Too many women in too many countries speak the same language—of silence...” Many of us, both male NPs and female NPs, are guilty of the same thing. We do our jobs, but not much more.
We must speak out in some way. We can no longer afford to remain silent. It’s easy to say that we are too busy or that we won’t make a difference. However, if all of us can find a little time, and if all of us raise our voices, then we can effectuate changes that will benefit not only the NP profession, but also the health of our nation.
Unfortunately, thousands of excellent NP clinicians in this country speak the common language of silence. If there were nothing to say, that would be fine. But each of us knows ways that NPs can make a difference in health care. Each of us can suggest ways that health care in this country can be improved. Many people need to hear these ideas. Living them, practicing them is great, but we must share who we are with the community at large. Today, I challenge you to do something more than just being an excellent clinician.
Politics is a process by which groups of people make collective decisions based on facts, to be sure, but also based on perceptions. We NPs need to control and enhance how we are perceived in the community. It’s about making nurse practitioner and NP household terms. When a patient has an appointment with one of us, he or she may say to someone, “I’m going to the doctor.” I’m looking forward to the day when such a patient says, “I’m going to see my NP,” and the listener will know exactly who NPs are and what we do.
When I walked into an examination room the other day, a patient greeted me by saying, “Hi, Doc.” As usual, I began to explain that I’m a nurse practitioner, not a doctor. The patient replied, “I know that, but you’re a doctor to me. I’ve been to so many doctors over the past 50 years for all sorts of problems, and you are the best. You listen to me, you take time with me, and you help me.” I thanked him for his comment but said that if he really likes what I do, he can help me promote my profession by referring to me as an NP and by telling people he sees a nurse practitioner, not that he has a great “doctor.”
My patients are learning. The time that it takes to explain who we are and what we do is worth it. We can promote our profession in the community in many other ways as well. Write an op-ed piece about healthcare reform or about the pivotal role of NPs for your local newspaper. If writing an oped piece is too much, try a simple letter to the editor. If your child’s school has a newsletter, volunteer to write an article or series of articles on health and nutrition. Or submit an article to your state NP organization for its regular newsletter. There are so many options—all within our reach. The forum itself matters less than imparting information from an NP perspective. In addition, your article makes readers aware that we NPs are out there, and that we have opinions and information, and that, as advocates of health promotion and providers of health care, we have so much to offer our communities.
If you want to get even more politically involved, write a letter to one of your legislators today. It’s easy to put off composing that letter, telling yourself that you don’t have time. Maybe you don’t want to look up a legislator’s address. Well, I suggest all NPs keep their legislators’ mailing address, email address, and phone number in their database on their computer or cell phone. Remove that first obstacle of having to find contact information and be ready! How many people ignore this plea to contact their legislators because it takes too much effort? We have our colleagues and our consultants’ phone numbers at our fingertips, so let’s put our legislators’ phone numbers in the same place! You can find your legislators’ contact information at http://www.senate.gov/ and http://www.house.gov/. Do it now! Get those addresses and have them available. I have a folder in my word processing program that contains all my letters. If I want to compose a new letter, I simply use a previous letter as a template and start typing away. I also keep a file for ideas and even words I may want to share one day.
You don’t need to wait for an issue or an action alert to send a letter. Just write to your legislators to introduce yourself and share some of your ideas about healthcare reform. Or send them an article that you may have found interesting or helpful. (I’ve sent some of my AJNP columns.) Offer to be available if your legislator needs additional information. We NPs have a unique perspective and have much to offer. Legislators are used to receiving letters when legislation is on the table. Instead, try writing a letter just to make contact. You’ll be less likely to receive a “canned” response.
Imagine if every NP in this country, more than 120,000 of us, did one small thing to promote the NP profession. What a difference we’d make! But not all NPs read this column. Maybe your contribution can be as simple as sharing a copy of this column with an NP friend or colleague. Maybe he or she will be inspired to write to a member of Congress. Do something today! Together, we can make a difference. We know how to provide good health care. Now we can become experts in politics in our own small but influential way!
Tom Bartol can be reached at Bartol@gwi.net
Thanks to everyone who sent responses to my column entitled Responding to Words That Hurt (Am J Nurse Pract. 2010;14:17-18). NPs are an amazing group of people, and the many letters show just that. One writer even said she was going to call Fox News and offer to be an NP consultant! That’s how we do it. By responding in the positive way we do, we will continue to show our professionalism and respect. If you would like to read or reread this Promoting the NP Profession column, or any others, log on to www.webNPonline.com.
Tom Bartol, NP