Should Nursing Be Involved in Politics?

Nurses are greatly affected by changes in the healthcare systems of our countries, states, and/or provinces. The decisions made up on high influence our working conditions and how our patients are affected – and that plays a role in how we try to provide good quality care.

With the upcoming elections in the United States (November 4) and Canada (October 14), healthcare issues are among the many that are on the plate. Some candidates are more forthcoming than others about their plans for healthcare improvement, while some have yet to come out and say what exactly it is they would do if elected. And of course, for those who do announce their plans, the public has to decide if their ideas are do-able and believable.

Nurses are greatly affected by changes in the healthcare systems of our countries, states, and/or provinces. The decisions made up on high influence our working conditions and how our patients are affected — and that plays a role in how we try to provide good quality care. This begs the question, should nurses – as a group – back any particular party, candidate, or ideology? Of should the groups stay out of it? Whether we feel a nurses’ association or union should or not participate turns out to be a moot point for many though, because they have been and are doing it throughout both countries.

Organization backing of a political figure or party can be very divisive within the associations or unions themselves. For example, here in Quebec, both my licensing body, to which I pay almost 300.00 per year for the privilege of being permitted to work as an RN, and the union of the time, backed a separatist party in both provincial elections and in federal elections. I would see the heads of these groups on TV with the political hopefuls and I would hear and read their comments of support. I did not then nor do I now support separatist causes. And I know that I’m not alone and it wasn’t a matter of English versus French — many of my French colleagues were just as against these two groups backing separatists. However, my colleagues and I had no say about how these two groups used our money to back their political ideas. Letters and phone calls fell on deaf ears and were ignored, and we have no option but to pay our dues and fees or else we are not permitted to work legally as nurses.

In the United States, there is a huge divide between the policies of the Democrats and the Republicans. The nomination of Sarah Palin as vice-presidential running mate has further polarized some voters. To many conservative women, Ms. Palin is exactly what they want, to Republican women — she’s beyond what they can perceive as being part of the federal government. Since nursing is a female-dominated profession and because of their role in the healthcare system that would bear the brunt of many decisions made by the politics of the winning party, nurses may actually be one of the largest groups affected by this election and its issues of healthcare, insurance, and women’s rights over their body.

In my liberal, Canadian, view, I know what side I would support if I were in the United States, but I have several American friends and acquaintances who are very firmly on the conservative side. This makes for some very interesting and heated exchanges, but that is between us, between individuals who choose to take the stands that we do. But if a group or union chooses to back a candidate based on issues that you really disagree with — how right is that? How can a group that is supposed to represent its members choose to back a political idea that some of the group may vehemently oppose?

Is it the role of our groups, associations, and unions to get involved in politics like this?