These past couple weeks, I got a chance to connect with extraordinary colleagues across the US and Canada to discuss what it means for a nurse to be political and why. I’m honored today to join the impressive list of nurses writing for this blog. I’m a nurse in Canada and I’ve always been political, but this is not common in nursing today. Nurses and nursing organization often seem to shrink away from discussing socio-political issues in an effort to appear ‘neutral’, yet nurses hold vital knowledge and experience which we could contribute to these important debates.
Being political doesn’t mean being partisan. This is what I wish to put forward with my first blog on Nurse Manifest. Nurses see on a daily basis the impact of health inequalities, racism, sexism, unemployment and all forms of discrimination on the health of the people we care for. We understand the importance of early childhood education, food security and affordable housing. We see what it costs us as a society to neglect these fundamental issues. We understand why the travel ban that was recently imposed in the US will not protect anyone, rather it will endanger men, women and children left stranded the world over and tear families apart.
Defunding Planned Parenthood is another threat to the health of millions of Americans. The case of Texas, which has the highest rate of maternal deaths in the industrial world, tragically illustrates what happens when access to reproductive care is restricted. As nurses, we must fight for policies that improve the health of the population, from demanding reasonable nurse patient ratios to enforcing the Geneva Convention rules on refugees. We have a responsibility, because of our knowledge and training, to protect the health of all humans, regardless of race, gender, immigration status, sexual orientation or religion.
Being political means being focussed on what is right and healthy for the future of humanity. This means we will let neither fear of censorship or reprisals deter us from speaking out, nor will we be coaxed or lured into silence by demagogy. We will hold decision makers accountable, from heads of state, to mayor’s offices, to hospital administrators.
Let us not forget our political history as nurses. Many nurses know the political history of Florence Nightingale, but there are countless others. Civil war hero Harriet Tubman was a nurse, as was Sojourner Truth. Irena Sandler, the second world war hero who saved thousands of children from the Warsaw ghetto was a nurse.
Let us honor their spirits by emulating their fearlessness and dedication to justice and truth. I believe being political is not a choice, but a duty for nurses. The care we provide must extend beyond the walls of the hospital to influence policy. We can make the world healthier.