How to Write to Your Legislator
If you've been a nurse (or nursing student) for a while, you've undoubtedly noticed -ahem- one or two :wink2: 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 | USA.gov 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 & AdvocacyThis 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.
I live in Portland, Oregon, and work at Oregon Health & Science University, as mentioned in my letter. I also mention two private 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 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, ACNSLast edit by Joe V on Jan 12, '15
About Teresag_CNS, PhD, CNS
Joined: Feb '09; Posts: 199; Likes: 403
independent wound care expert, educator; from US
34 year(s) of experience in ICU, trauma, gerontology, woundsJul 12, '09Any response?
I wrote my representative.... not even a form letter in return.
Of course, I thought nurses could only make progress like management does...
By making vague sugar coated threats.... like.....
Ahem..... If you don't do something to regulate staffing ratios... all the nurses will organize and take our taxable incomes elsewhere. For example a state that believes in adequate health-care, education, child-care, pay for on call time etc.... Oh God, there's no state like that!Jul 13, '09Yes, I got a reply. I've copied it below.
Dear Dr. Goodnurse:
Thank you for contacting me regarding the shortage of nurse educators. I appreciate hearing from you on this important issue, and it was good to talk with you about this recently.
Over 40 years ago, in response to concerns about existing or impending shortages of nurses, Congress passed the Nurse Training Act of 1964. The act established in Title VIII of the Public Health Service Act (PHSA) the first comprehensive federal support for programs to develop the nursing workforce. Through subsequent reauthorizations, these programs have been amended to increase opportunities in nurse education and training for individuals and institutions. Currently, Title VIII authorizes grants to institutions, and scholarships and loans to individuals, for basic and advanced levels of nursing education and training.
Like you, I recognize the need for nurse educators. With my support, Congress has increased overall funding for Title VIII (Nursing Workforce Development) programs by 86% over the last decade, from $93 million to $156 million. President Bush's fiscal year 2009 budget request proposed a 30% cut to the Nursing Workforce Development budget. The final budget, that was passed in March by the new congress and supported by President Obama, increased funding for nursing programs by 9.6%.
I was also a cosponsor of the Higher Education Opportunity Act, which became law last year, which authorized up to $10,000 in loan forgiveness for service in areas of national need, and it included nursing as a critical service need.
I will keep your thoughts in mind as Congress continues to consider how to most efficiently allocate resources to address the nursing shortage crisis.
Once again, thank you for writing to me about this important issue. If you would like to receive regular email updates from me, please go to my website at www.house.gov/wu to sign up. If I can be of additional assistance, please call my Oregon office at 503-326-2901 or 800-422-4003.
With warm regards,
Member of CongressJul 16, '09I have written my representatives in the past and either got a simple "thanks for your input", like the OP or some wonderful help from them!
Where one can feel powerless......: I am a member of X political party. My representative is of X political party. The ruling party is Y. Y is proposing that which I am staunchly against. My representative is also against it.
Writing the representative has no effect on passage of Y's agenda.
Sux.Sep 19, '13That was an excellent article, and a good example of a well-written, effective letter. Of course, individually authored letters are generally more effective, so it's a good idea to change it up some.
Unfortunately, as another commenter has mentioned, too often is seem that our legislators, or their staff, don't even bother to read the letter. I have received canned responses from legislators thanking me for supporting a position that had taken, even though my letter was clearly in opposition to that position. It can be frustrating and, admittedly, most legislators are not particularly interested in representing the positions of their constituents, except for verbiage in an election year. This isn't true of all, however; and when opinions are strong in favor or opposition of one position or another, they can sometimes be persuaded (intimidated) into doing the right thing.
A quick, easy, guide finding your federal legislators can be found, either by clicking on the interactive map, the list of states below, or by zip code, on the Citizen Legislator site. Similar sites are available for most state legislators as well.
Usually, with the exception, perhaps, of some state legislators, your congress or senate representative is unlikely to read your letter personally. Rather, their staff will compile a list of contacts regarding a specific issue, along with the positions that they are encouraging on a specific issue. These lists are not generally scanned for duplicates so, when something is coming up that you have a strong opinion about, don't be afraid to contact your representative more than once. I have, on occasion, called each of their local offices, as well as their Washington, D.C. office, and have also sent emails, written a letter, and sent a fax, not all on the same day, of course.
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