Nurses: Make Your Voice Heard

NURSES ARE MOVING HEALTHCARE FORWARD- in the United States and around the world. Never have there been so many nurses leading major federal agencies, shaping policy and creating historical reform. The characteristics of a passionate nurse  -one who advocates for the patient, takes a holistic approach to care,  and has a desire for improving access -led them to these major roles.

In 2013, Marilyn Tavenner was named as Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services -the $820 billion federal agency which ensures health care coverage for 100 million Americans. In this position, she has a major role in carrying out key provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Before she was in health policy, however, she worked as an ICU nurse and has always considered herself to be a public health advocate.

Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, noted the nurse role when announcing Tavenner's appointment: "Marilyn brings with her a breadth of experience and expertise from virtually all angles of health care policy and delivery, having served as a hospital CEO, a state health official, and a registered nurse."

Tavenner uses the holistic approach to running Medicare. "I think one of the things that is so critical about how nurses view the world is that you are looking at how do you get everybody involved in the process, whether it's family or whether it's staff," she said in an interview with

Mary Wakefield, who has a bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree in nursing, is a Fellow in the American Academy of Nursing, and has a background working in rural nursing homes and intensive care units. She is the Administrator of HRSA -the Health Resources and Services Administration-the primary federal agency that improves access to health care services for people who are uninsured, isolated or medically vulnerable.

In nominating her, President Obama pointed to her nursing and academic experience: "As a nurse, a Ph.D. and a leading rural healthcare advocate, Wakefield brings expertise that will be instrumental in expanding and improving services for those who are uninsured or underserved."

Wakefield also acknowledged the role nursing played in her selection in the American Journal of Nursing: "The fact that the President selected me-a nurse from North Dakota-as the administrator of a $7.8 billion health care agency underscores his recognition of the nursing profession's contributions and ensures that our expertise informs health policy and reform."

Then there is Patricia Grady who has a bachelor's and master's in nursing and has headed the National Institute for Nursing Research (NINR), one of the 27 institutes and centers that comprise the National Institutes for Health (NIH), for 15 years. In this position, she continues to showcase the role of nursing research in improving areas such as prevention and symptom management.

Under Grady's leadership, the NINR is helping to influence an entire generation of nurse scientists to shape a new area of scientific inquiry. The NINR has established training programs to develop nurse investigators. In 2013, nurse scientists received $140 million in research funding from NINR.

Grady told American Nurse, the official publication of the American Nurses Association, "Our emphasis is on generating new knowledge that is important to our profession and to the health of the American people. Because nurses practice everywhere, we have access – and the ability – to improve people's health. So we really need to make the most of that opportunity."

Find Your Voice and Speak Out

"In our role as nurses, we need to follow their examples and use our voice to step into the public spotlight and promote our role in clinical care, in research, in policy," stated Courtney H. Lyder, dean of the UCLA School of Nursing.

Over the past several decades, the nation's three million nursing professionals have been quietly defining and expanding their roles through championing quality of care improvements, spearheading research innovation and advocating for patient rights in ways that the majority of the public is unaware. Nursing professionals "hold the power and influence to make those numbers speak," said the former Secretary of Health and Human Services, Donna Shalala.

Yet, while the general public gets more than 50 percent of its health information from the media and 4 in 10 adults follow health policy stories, nursing is a voice that is very rarely heard in mainstream broadcast, web and print outlets.

Lyder pointed out: "Over the past few years, our nurse scientists at the School have been stepping in front of the microphone to talk about their research and display their leadership. As a result, we have garnered international media coverage for research and more media are calling to use our faculty as an expert source."

Diana Mason, who is the president of the American Academy of Nursing, shares this perspective of how nurses can increase their visibility in the media as leaders in health care and health policy:

"I would challenge all of us who see ourselves as leaders, to think about how are we doing with the media. What do we need to do to develop our skill set to be more effective in interfacing with the media? And to take advantage of the media opportunities that exist -not to wait for them but to go after those media opportunities."

Shalala sees nurses as leaders in a reformed healthcare system. At the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing commencement program, she called on graduates to make sure that their voices are heard "on rounds and on the record" and to "give the profession a little swagger."

Nurses have a different and unique perspective on health and healthcare. So get your swagger on and make your voice heard.

"Over the past few years, our nurse scientists at the School have been stepping in front of the microphone to talk about their research and display their leadership."     

-Courtney H. Lyder