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Alene Nitzky is an oncology nurse, author of Navigating the C: A Nurse Charts the Course for Cancer Survivorship Care, Blue Bayou Press, 2018. She is a cancer exercise trainer and health coach, and is CEO/Founder of Cancer Harbors®.

Advocacy Means Sticking Your Neck Out And Your Fingers

Let the world know what healthcare is like behind the scenes and how it affects patient care, instead of keeping it mysterious and mythical.
PUBLISHED: 5:20 AM, MON JUNE 19, 2017
Nurses are busy people. When we are overloaded, we narrow our focus. It’s hard enough to concentrate on what we have in front of us.

As the American public waits for the Senate’s version of Health Care Reform, with few details and no transparency, we have been living with uncertainty regarding our healthcare for a long time. Regardless of how you feel about the Affordable Care Act or where your political leanings take you, we have heard little fuss from healthcare providers.

Our job is to advocate for our patients, and if we are afraid that something like losing health coverage could do them harm, it is up to us to speak out and make our voices heard.

I am not sure what the reasons are for the silence. Is it fear, now that so many of us work for powerful, large, corporate entities? Is it exhaustion, from doing the work of more than one person with chronic understaffing? Is it apathy, due to burnout, fatigue, or a number of other factors?

Nurses need to be heard!

We often tell our patients not to be stoic, to let us know if they are suffering pain, nausea, or other forms of discomfort. We want to be able to take action to help them feel better, tolerate treatment, and have a better outcome.

Nurses are notorious for telling patients to take care of themselves, yet we don’t do the same for ourselves. Our stoicism consists of enduring tough working conditions, acquiescing to ridiculous expectations, and whispering only amongst ourselves about the difficult, if not abusive, working conditions we enable with our silence.

Cancer patients live with uncertainty all the time, they never know if the rug will be pulled out from underneath them with a recurrence. Nurses live with uncertainty at work too, will we still have our jobs, what demands will be the last straw, who will stab me in the back?

Our patients rely on us to support them through difficult times. We need to rely on someone, too. We don’t have one united organization that has our backs. We are certainly not known for supporting each other. Physicians are struggling with the same issues, they are now starting to understand what it’s been like for nurses, as employees, all this time.

We cannot afford to sit back and wait. Our patients need health coverage, their lives depend on it.

Nurses are afraid to speak out on social media, but you have a powerful tool at your fingertips, the old- fashioned pen and paper, or just the simple act of sitting down and typing a letter.

Can you, as an individual, spare five or ten minutes a week to make a phone call, or better yet, write a letter, to your Senator or Representative in Congress, to let them know how you feel about health care issues? If each of us did this, millions of voices would be heard, and we have the potential to make a difference for our patients, as well as ourselves. There is something very empowering about speaking your mind as a citizen and participating in the democratic process. You will get a response, although it can take several weeks or longer.

For those who do use social media, we need a hashtag, like #listentonurses

There are other ways to get the word out. Personally, I am wrapping up work on a book that has been three years in the making. It’s so important for nurses’ voices to be heard, we so easily get drowned in the physician and big business voices of healthcare.

I want to encourage other nurses to write. In the case of my book, I found a publisher who is a nurse, who started her own publishing company to help nurses get their works published. I’ve connected with Healthcare Writers Network, one of the founders is Carol Bush, and oncology nurse and writer. I’ve also connected with a group of nurse entrepreneurs through social media, called

You don’t have to be rich, famous, or have a long list of published works.  If you have an idea and know you can’t get it off the ground where you work, don’t despair.

Support nurses. Support their efforts, recognize their ideas, nominate them for awards, show the world what we do. Make sure the local media know about what nurses are doing in your community.

Cancer patients need a voice to advocate for them, and nurses need a voice to advocate for themselves, so that we can do what we do best, advocate for our patients. Let your voice be heard. Let the world know what healthcare is like behind the scenes and how it affects patient care, instead of keeping it mysterious and mythical. 

Talk about this article with nurses and others in the oncology community in the General Discussions Oncology Nursing News discussion group.
More from Alene Nitzky, PhD, RN, OCN
Nurses can play a strong, supportive role in educating the public about how to respond to people who have been diagnosed with cancer.
PUBLISHED: Wed July 25 2018
A recent Dutch study of patients with colon and rectal cancer who underwent surgery suggests that outcomes from emergency weekend surgeries may be worse compared with those who had surgery on weekdays.
PUBLISHED: Thu July 05 2018
An update on the progress of the Cancer Harbors survivorship program, filling a gap in patient care.
PUBLISHED: Thu June 28 2018
One of the hardest things for some people to do is to ask for help, including healthcare professionals.
PUBLISHED: Fri June 01 2018
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