Becoming a Nurse Activist

Nurses can make an impact on important issues

While earning her doctorate of nursing practice several years ago, Mary Beth Modic, DNP, RN, APRN-CNS, CDCES, FAAN, was challenged with a question in her health policy class: Have you done enough to justify your being on this planet? “We were asked to expand our thinking about nursing beyond our workplaces and professional organizations to the national and global level,” she says.

Advertising Policy

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services Policy

When the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the world in 2020, Modic was again reminded of the importance of nurses’ involvement in important societal issues. “It became very apparent that there were parts of our society suffering more than others, and all the necessary safety nets weren’t in place,” she says.

Modic is a vocal proponent for nurse activism. She is on the board of directors for the National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists (NACNS) and frequently writes and calls her elected officials about public health issues that concern her, such as access to affordable medications and gun violence. She also encourages other nurses to speak out and get involved. She gave a podium presentation entitled, “Becoming a Nurse Activist – No Time Like the Present” at the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses’ 2020 Virtual Convention.

“We need to use our collective voices in ways that are proactive for patients,” says Modic. “We all have different interests, but we can use our intellect and skills to convey certain messages that we think are important.” 

Advertising Policy

Modic offers five steps toward becoming a nurse activist.

  • Stay informed on important issues. Become knowledgeable on topics that interest you, engage people in conversations and be an active listener. “Activism can be behind the scenes, donating to organizations you believe in and want to see flourish,” says Modic.
  • Join a professional organization. “If you are part of a professional organization, your dues go to something aside from the journal,” says Modic. “Organizations often lobby Congress or set policies that reflect your practice.” Most outline their advocacy and policy agenda on their websites. For example, the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses (AMSN) lists six topics on its legislative priority agenda, ranging from safe staffing for nurses to the opioid crisis.
  • Obtain certification. “Professional certification says to the public that you have taken additional steps to demonstrate a level of knowledge and expertise and to assure patients that you are current in your field,” says Modic. Becoming certified helps ensure her first point – staying up-to-date on important issues.
  • Write your congressional representatives. “Acknowledge their efforts when they are doing things for the common good, and express your desires for change,” says Modic. Following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in 2018, the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis held a sit-in to promote gun reform. Though Lewis wasn’t Modic’s representative, she wrote to him several times to express her gratitude for his leadership and received replies. Similarly, you can write letters to the editor of local newspapers to spread the word about important issues and demonstrate to the public that nurses are leaders. The American Nurses Association offers tips for writing letters to the editor.
  • Partner with your peers. “Find like-minded people, form alliances and work together,” says Modic. “One voice is a voice, but four or five is a movement.” Together, you can bounce ideas off of each other and brainstorm activities that facilitate change. For instance, if you are passionate about food insecurity, you might partner with other nurses to start a farmer’s market or community garden in a food desert.

Get support for your activism

Many healthcare organizations offer support for nurse activism. Cleveland Clinic reimburses nurses for certification exam fees and allows nurses such as Modic to devote a certain number of work hours per month to involvement in their professional organizations. In addition, the Nursing Institute created the Legislative and Health Policy Council in 2014 to influence political and practical issues that impact the nursing profession and delivery of healthcare. The council has dozens of nurse members and hosts an annual Legislative Health Policy Conference.

“There are so many nurses – more than 3.8 million nationwide,” says Modic. “If we use our collective voices in ways that are hopeful and productive, we can make a difference!”