How to Write to Your Legislator
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If you’ve been a nurse (or nursing student) for a while, you’ve undoubtedly noticed -ahem- one or two things in health care that are suboptimal. Odds are good that at some point you have thought to yourself, “Somebody should tell Congress about that!” Or, “That’s really bad policy and somebody ought to change it!”
Well, why not be the somebody who does?
You can make change happen; it’s as easy as writing a letter. Writing to your Senator or Representative is not as daunting as it may seem. These people want to hear from you! It’s been said that one letter from a constituent represents the thoughts of hundreds.
Although there’s no trick to writing a letter to your legislators, there are some rules to follow to give your letter the most impact. In this article, I will describe these rules and show you a sample letter that I sent to my federal Congressional Representative about the nursing faculty shortage.
Tips for Letter-writing to Influence Your Legislators
I live in Portland, Oregon, and work at Oregon Health & Science University, as mentioned in my letter. I also mention two private schools of nursing in Portland for comparison. Notice inclusion of my prior interactions with Congressman Wu, links to the Oregon Center for Nursing’s document on the nursing faculty shortage, specific information about my experiences as an educator at OHSU, and specific requests made of the legislator. I tried to keep the letter concise and clear, emphasizing the major point: unstable funding for nursing education. Although I know that some people oppose better funding and higher education for nurses, I avoided that contentious issue to simply present the facts. This is not the only valid approach, but it is the one I chose in this particular letter. Finally, I ended the letter with a thank-you to this legislator for supporting the nursing profession in the past and signed it with my full credentials.
Dear Congressman Wu, You may recall discussing the nursing shortage with me last December during the holiday celebration hosted by my colleague Dr. ___ _____ at his home in ________. We discussed the dire situation in my profession where unstable funding and inappropriate resource allocation have caused cyclical shortages that have set back the health of Americans, the efficiency of health care, and the nursing profession itself.
I’m writing now to ask you to consider attacking the root of the problem: unstable support for nursing education. Recurrent nurse shortages are brought on by undesirable working conditions, the financial and personal strain of rigorous training programs, and disproportionately low earning potential and power over our own practice.
The average entrance GPA at the OHSU School of Nursing where I teach is 3.8, higher than that of the medical school at OHSU. Tuition at OHSU rivals that of private universities such as Linfield and U of Portland. We receive 300-400 applications yearly for each of of our two undergraduate programs, admitting only about 100 students in total of those applicants. Many of our students have prior careers and prior college degrees from baccalaureates in liberal arts to PhDs in neuroscience. In short, nursing students are amazingly talented people with a commitment to serving the public and to making a difference in health care policy and practice.
There are many well-prepared individuals who want to study nursing. At least 30,000 qualified applicants are turned away from nursing schools every year because the nursing profession lacks the funds needed to retain and recruit faculty. In the absence of stable funding, qualified nursing educators to train these willing future nurses are in short supply. Even if OHSU were able to find and hire the faculty we need, we would not have the money to pay them. According to the Oregon Center for Nursing, ‘Oregon’s nursing programs have more than doubled enrollment since 2001, but the number of nurse faculty has increased by just 14 percent.’
Nurse faculty are working harder than ever to address this shortage because of its potential to cripple health care in America. The State Board of Nursing has been forced to set limits on student:faculty ratios in clinical settings in the interest of patient protection. This is the bottom line: We cannot squeeze more out of our existing nursing education structure. The United States is in dire need of stable funding for nursing education.
Thank you for your attention to this critical health care issue and for your past support of the nursing profession.
Respectfully, Teresa T. Goodnurse, RN, CNS, PhD, CCRN, ACNS
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