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Is political advocacy ethical for nurses?

Author(s): Andrea van der Hoek, BSN, BA, RN, CPEN

To: Ethics Inbox   

From: Uneasy RN

Subject: Political advocacy

I recently saw a political ad featuring a nurse using her name and licensed credentials to support a particular candidate and his views on healthcare. I was instructed that nurses shouldn’t make specific politician or policy endorsements. I know we have the right to free speech, but is using our credentials to advocate ethical? I’m considering the appropriate way to become involved in advocacy.   

From: ANA Center for Ethics and Human Rights

Thank you for your question. In this election year, many nurses may be asking themselves the same questions about how to balance freedom of speech, their professional identity, and their personal beliefs. As members of the most honest and ethical profession and the largest segment of the healthcare workforce, nurses certainly have a role in advocacy.

Provision 5 of the Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements (the Code) acknowledges that the nurse’s personal and professional identities are integrated. Because you’re an RN, certain issues may compel you to speak out. It’s your right to do so, even if others disagree with your perspective.

Your interest in being involved in politics and policy is supported by the Code. Provision 8 states that health is a universal right and that nurses must address the context of health to advance human rights and reduce disparities. The Code guides nurses to lead partnerships for legislation, policies, and programs that promote health, and the American Nurses Association’s (ANA’s) RNAction website features stories of some of these nurses. For instance, Razvan Preda, DNP, RN, a New Mexico Nurses Association member, introduced a memorial in his state legislature to raise awareness around the lack of funding for the trauma system. It was passed unanimously. Kathy Luzmoor, MS, RN, CNE, of the Wyoming Nurses Association, saw a need for nursing representation on her county health board. She now serves as chair of the board and is able to impact the health of her local community. Our profession belongs at the table, and we need your voice in these conversations.

A nurse’s employer may have specific policies in place about staff participation in political advocacy as a representative of their organization. Check the policies of your workplace to fully understand the implications of engaging in advocacy and consider asking about such policies when seeking employment.

Fulfilling your ethical obligations as a nurse may compel you to advocate for a political candidate, elected representative, policy, or platform, and you can do that in many ways beyond appearing in political ads. Nurses can speak with colleagues, meet with legislators, sign petitions, or write letters to the editor. Through RNAction.org, ANA provides updates on key nursing issues to keep you informed and offers opportunities to take action.

ANA encourages RNs to be well informed and politically engaged as nurse advocates during the 2020 elections by visiting nursesvote.org. More broadly, nurses are encouraged to engage in their communities. For example, join the library board or local homeowners association, attend parent-teacher association meetings, or volunteer in your community. Whatever way you choose to serve, you have a valuable and respected perspective to share.

— Response by Andrea van der Hoek, BSN, BA, RN, CPEN,
intern, ANA Center for Ethics and Human Rights, and
Liz Stokes, JD, MA, RN, director, ANA Center for
Ethics and Human Rights.

Do you have a question for the Ethics lnbox? Submit at ethics@ana.org.

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