Nursing is a noble and beloved profession. Nurses are the most trusted workers in the United States and perform absolutely essential tasks. Throughout the years, nurses have been key advocates and activists for everything from healthcare equality to the right to vote. They occupy a unique place in American Society. They are front line witnesses to inequalities and injustices, and they make heroic efforts in service of the population. During the last year, Americans have seen just how essential nurses are to the health of the nation.
Nurses have influenced the social and legal progression of the country towards equality. Here are some of the reasons why nurse advocacy and activism is so important.
Nurses are on the Front Lines
One of the reasons that nurse advocacy and activism is so powerful is that they are on the front lines of any health crisis that befalls the nation. They are in a perfect position to notice structural healthcare inequalities or governmental mishandling of the health of the nation. They are also often the people to bear the brunt of cutbacks, pandemic responses or institutional discrimination.
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An incredibly simplified way of explaining the power of nurses is by envisioning them as the foot soldiers of a military. They are the cutting edge, the actualizing arm of any healthcare system. Without their work, no healthcare system would survive and the health of the population would be in jeopardy. Nurse activism and advocacy is so powerful because people are aware of just how crucial nurses are. This exposes a discrepancy between how governments and businesses treat nurses and how they view them. They are viewed as essential, but treated as being undeserving of executive power within the same system as doctors are. During the recent COVID-19 pandemic, nurse activists have taken to the streets and the internet, using their experience as front line workers to expose double standards in the handling of the virus. Nurses have had to be powerful advocates for their own causes because despite being viewed as essential, some of their needs have been disregarded. Nurses protested outside the white house last year calling for more Personal Protective Equipment. Their message was symbolically powerful: they risked their lives to help the nation through its most grueling time, and they needed reciprocal handling of their own safety.
Healthcare is Political
As key healthcare providers and educators, nurses are well placed to notice inequalities and injustices within the health system. Healthcare is the subject of heated political debate and ideologically driven strategies. In the United States, a debate has long raged about the way in which healthcare should be provided – commentators are largely split down political lines. Those on the left typically see healthcare as a part of the government’s social contract with its citizens. It is something that should be provided universally to all and paid for by all. Those on the right deem the regulation of healthcare to be an over encroachment of the government on private interests.
Nurses see the failings of the current system first-hand. In recent years, advocacy groups spearheaded by registered nurses have been campaigning for fairer healthcare provisions for all Americans. These nurses see universal healthcare as a way of ensuring that all Americans have access to treatment no matter what their financial situation. The involvement of active nurses in these campaigns is very important indeed. They are the most trusted professionals in the United States of America, and have first-hand experience of the healthcare system’s pitfalls. They carry real political power.
Nurses Do and Have Fought Racism
Nursing has always been a very diverse sector in the United States. People from all races have flocked towards nursing due the appeal of a caring, stable field of work. Despite the diversity of the sector, the racism that has affected wider society has also deeply affected nurses and their patients. Nurses have been key activists fighting for racial equality and as a result of their necessity to a healthy society have often managed to achieve wonderful results.
The Virginian nurse Adah Belle Thoms was a key nurse activist in the early 20th century. A talented caregiver and educator, she was appalled by the ways in which racism and racist segregation prevented African American nurses from holding senior positions or attending top educational facilities. In 1908, Thoms co-founded the National Association For Colored Graduate Nurses. This organization was formed with the express aim of achieving the full integration of black women into the nursing profession. Thoms also had a hand in the integration of the military nursing service during World War One. It is notable that this desegregation happened far earlier than the desegregation of male soldiers.
Now there are no legal restrictions and anyone wanting to can become a nurse in Virginia, but nurses are still key anti-racism activists.
Nurses were Key Warriors for Suffrage and still Fight for Women’s Rights
Although it is possible to become a nurse no matter what gender you belong to, the field has traditionally been associated with women. This may be because the profession evolved in Europe from female religious orders, and because nursing was associated with maternalistic instincts and care.
The fact that so many nurses – absolutely essential workers – have traditionally been female has enabled nurses to exert a political power that was denied to most women historically. Nurses in America were some of the most powerful and effective activists campaigning for universal suffrage – the right to vote. Nurses remain powerful advocates for female rights to this day. For 150 years, the nursing profession, in its caring role, has been intrinsically linked with the fight against sexist oppression.
Women still make up around 85 percent of the nursing population according to the United States Census Bureau. The kind of nursing jobs held by women is changing, with women holding a more even percentage of senior and high paid nursing roles than ever before.