How to Write to Your Legislator

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

  1. Always be factual and respectful. Address your legislator as Senator or Representative (capitalized) and present your requests, positions and opinions thoroughly yet concisely and factually. Your emotions may run high on an issue, but remember to be factual rather than passionate most of the time. A bit of passion about why you are committed to your profession, why your legislator should pay more attention to health care spending and/or why funding for childhood immunizations is important will go a long way, so don’t let it dominate your letter. Remember that the legislator may have received letters or met with lobbyists who oppose your issue; don’t demonize these people. They are as sincere as you are.
  2. Make your argument water-tight. Present factual information that will help your legislator see why your position is the right one. Use solid sources, such as peer-reviewed journal articles, white papers by government and private agencies, and demographic information from universities and federal agencies. When possible, include a link to the source within your letter. The more easily your legislator’s staff can access the facts, the more likely they are to read them.
  3. Appeal to the legislator’s interests as a member of Congress and as an American. If your legislator is a member of the Ways & Means committee, for example, write about the wise allocation of funds and how this will impact the interests of all Americans. Nurses are respected as advocates for public health, justice in the allocation of health care, and the prevention of disease and disability; mention these and the other worthy goals of our profession in your letter. Legislators who are on education committees will be interested in learning about the crisis in nursing education; the sample letter below was written to my own Representative, who chairs a federal community college committee. Find your legislators here: Federal Legislative Branch | Your own state government should have a similar website for finding and writing to your state legislators.
  4. Make a specific request of your legislator. Stay up-to-date on legislation that might impact nursing and tell your legislator about it. You can request that that he/she oppose a bill, co-sponsor it, or vote for it when it comes to the floor. Do remember, however, that many bills never reach the floor for a vote, so it’s wise to write to a legislator at the right time. You can receive timely alerts about nursing-related bills from the American Nurses’ Association here: Policy & Advocacy. This site offers opportunities for nurses to take political action in diverse ways. One does not have to be an ANA member to take advantage of these services.
  5. Include a personal link to the request you are making. Tell your legislator a story from your nursing practice. Describe how the patients you serve are influenced every day by their access to health care, by the nursing shortage, by the price of pharmaceuticals, and/or by health care insurance that does not pay for preventive services. Whatever the concern that prompted your letter, a single story told by you, a nurse on the front lines of health care, about your own patients, has tremendous power to illustrate an issue to a legislator who likely has little or no knowledge of the work done by nursing professionals.
  6. Help your legislator recognize you as a concerned citizen and a professional. If you have met with this legislator in the past, or written letters in the past, mention those. Jog the legislator’s memory about your prior interactions to show him or her that you are committed to nursing issues and are willing to take the time to research his or her record of support for nursing. Do remember that legislators want your vote, and will work to meet your requests, particularly if you show that you are watching their activities.
  7. Use your full credentials in signing your letter. Legislators pay attention to letters that clearly come from educated, dedicated professionals. Your licensure, degree, and certification(s) establish you as an authority on health care. Don’t worry about appearing to self-promote; this is a formal communication in which showing your full credentials is completely appropriate, even essential. Not all legislators allow you to include your title (if appropriate) and create your own signature; follow the instructions on the website of your individual legislator carefully.

Sample letter

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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