When Health Gets Political, Nurses Speak Out


As nurses navigate cancer care during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is especially important that they have their voices heard – and their votes counted.

Thanks to the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, 2020 has brought on unprecedented challenges for health care workers. However, it is still important that nurses advocate for themselves and their patients on the local and federal level.

While people are no longer going to Capitol Hill, oncology nurses have been doing “virtual advocacy,” reaching out via phone and video calls to their congresspeople or local policymakers, explained Alec Stone, MA, MPA, public affairs director at the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS).

“Nurses are seizing the opportunity to get much more involved in the political process, taking the advocacy that they have learned as nurses and moving it forward, taking a step into a new realm,” Stone said in a presentation at the 2020 ONS Bridge virtual conference. “It’s so necessary.”

Now, as nurses must navigate cancer care in the midst of a pandemic, there are even more issues that can arise highlighting the importance of nurses speaking out.

For example, social distancing and stay-at-home orders have drastically decreased the rate of cancer screening and preventative measures for individuals without cancer, while others with a diagnosis have been delaying their treatment. This is leading to more later-stage diagnoses and potential cancer progression.

“We can’t delay cancer care forever. What we’re trying to do is work in the cancer community — in the cancer advocacy community as well – to get to the point where we can see that screenings and a back-to-normal process [can occur], while maintaining social distance [during] the global pandemic,” Stone said.

In order to accomplish this, there must be protective measures established for both the patients and the providers. This may be difficult as mask wearing has become a hot-button issue, particularly in the media, Stone explained.

“Who would have thought that there would be politicization of health care or wearing masks or social distancing?” he said.

However, Stone said that despite the media often focusing on division, public polling actually showed that more than 75% of Americans believe that wearing a mask is essential for public health. “Nurses are out there really waiving the banner and talking about public health initiatives.”

In addition to reaching out to policymakers, Stone also suggested that nurses — regardless of what party they affiliate with – get out and vote.

“I don’t care where you are on the political spectrum, register to vote and go vote at election time,” Stone said. “It is so important that your voice be heard that way.”

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