On the Other Side of the Rails


From the Bedside to the Capitol Building

Capitol Building
Reprinted with permission of the Emergency Nurses Association.

Mary Gannon MSN, RN, CEN

We learn in nursing school that we are our patient’s advocate, and a big part of our role is ensuring they get the care they need. Recently, advocacy in nursing has taken on a new meaning for me: advocating not only for our patients, but also for our communities and nursing colleagues within the local, state, and national legislative arenas. Advocating on each of these levels is a rewarding way to become involved beyond the bedside and can give us as nurses a feeling of empowerment.

Advocacy can include letter writing to your representatives regarding legislation, educating your peers about legislation that may affect them, or directly participating in legislative events. For the past 3 years, I have had increased interest in nursing advocacy and have participated in the California Emergency Nurses Association’s Legislative Day. This day includes education on a variety of topics including how a bill does or does not become law, how to speak to representatives, where other groups are prioritizing in their legislative advocacy, and more. The second part of the day includes visiting California State Senators and Representatives to ask for their support on legislation we have sponsored or endorsed. In turn, they ask us to support their pieces of legislation. Participating in my first California ENA Legislative Day increased my interest in advocacy and expanded my knowledge of the legislative process. I encourage all nurses to participate in their state’s legislative day, and if your state council does not currently host an ENA Legislative Day, consider participating on a national level at ENA’s Day on the Hill.

In 2019 I was chosen as 1 of 8 representatives from the California ENA to represent our state at ENA’s Day on the Hill in Washington, D.C. For the first time, I visited the country’s capital, and it was an honor to participate in our government processes as an advocate for nursing interests. In 2019, the issues we requested our representatives support included funding the Emergency Services for Children (EMSC): https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/776/text?overview=closed and H.R1309: https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/1309/text. Both are important for nursing: EMSC provides funding for pediatric care, and H.R. 1309 mandates that facilities provide better protections for their employees.

Every time I participate in an advocacy activity, whether it is traveling to Washington, D.C., or simply reading state bills for the year, I learn something new about the way our government works, the health care system, or the priorities of other advocacy groups. This new knowledge is exciting, and when the day-to-day work of being a nurse becomes mundane, I find this a way to give my career more meaning. Meeting with my political representatives has made me realize that they are everyday people who want to do the best for their communities. We may not always agree on how to get there, but I have yet to meet a representative from either side of the aisle not acting as a well-intentioned community advocate.

Advocacy at the bedside is still the most important part of our job as nurses because we directly impact patients every day, but we can extend that skill to a higher level and make positive change for entire communities. As ENA members, you can sign up for ENA 411 at https://www.ena.org/government-relations#advocate. ENA government affairs will send updates and action alerts on federal issues. At the state and local level, sending letters, emailing, and calling your representatives is an easy, but important role in community advocacy. During the current COVID19 pandemic, ENA has issued several action alerts, encouraging members to send communication to their representatives to advocate for frontline workers and patients during this time. This is a great time to get involved in government affairs and public policy. You may find a new passion in nursing and help our profession and communities along the way.

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Guest Contributor

Mary Gannon, MSN, RN, CEN

Mary Gannon, MSN, RN, CEN

Mary Gannon, MSN, RN, CEN, is a veteran nurse with over 17 years of experience in emergency and critical care. An engaged member of the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA) who has worked to support emergency nurses at the local, state, and national levels. A current Member of the California American College of Emergency Physicians (Cal ACEP) Board of Directors as the ENA Representative and President of the Sacramento Chapter of ENA. Mary currently works as a Relief Charge Nurse at a large, suburban emergency department.

How to contribute

We encourage submissions from any reader who has been touched by the healthcare system. Some contributors may be involved directly in patient care and might want to share the impact a patient, family, or colleague had on them. Others may want to write about life “on the other side of the rails” …those moments when the caregiver becomes the patient…or maybe sees healthcare from the vantage point of a family member. Inquiries can be sent to [email protected]

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