RNs get involved in the election process

(Nurse.com) They live on opposite ends of the country and support opposing candidates, but two nurses working on the 2012 presidential campaigns agree their profession needs to be seen and heard in the political arena.

“I think it’s very important to get nurses involved,” said Sarah Baumann McMorris, RN, BSN, an ED nurse at Overlake Hospital Medical Center in Bellevue, Wash., who is working on former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s campaign. “We tend to be advocates by our very natures. In that capacity, we can really do a service for our country, whether at the national, state or local level.”

On the East Coast, Patty Haling, RN, FNP, of Charlottesville, Va., is campaigning for President Barack Obama. “I’d love to see more nurses get involved in the political process,” she said. “People listen to nurses. Nurses are the ones who are nurturing and who care about them.”

As a neighborhood team leader for the Obama campaign, Haling, 53, organizes and works with volunteers who make phone calls, register voters and go door-to-door explaining the president’s positions. She loves the work, especially talking with undecided voters, many of whom don’t understand everything in Obama’s Affordable Care Act, she said.

When explaining it to them, her professional experience is invaluable, she said. “For a nurse to explain the ACA is much more believable to a person because we are the ones seeing the benefits.”

McMorris, 37, who makes calls, organizes events, knocks on doors and manages social media, said as a nurse she focuses on human issues rather than political advantages. She sees another side to healthcare reform: nurses and others from both political parties who don’t “like the idea of Obamacare, don’t like the idea of high government spending,” and wonder how Americans will cover the costs. McMorris appreciates Romney’s “focus on small, responsible government,” and that “his healthcare proposal gives power back to the states,” she said. She also appreciates his “record of working across the aisle,” noting he was a Republican governor in a heavily Democratic state.

Both nurses have histories of working for political campaigns, and said their views have been shaped by personal and professional experiences. As a nurse in a hospital near the Canadian border, McMorris was struck by Canadian patients who came to the U.S. for open heart surgery and other cardiac procedures. They said there were waiting lists in their home country and they feared they might not survive, she said. “Yes, our healthcare system has problems, but we can get healthcare when we need it and choose when we have it done.”

Romney, she said, is open to ideas about increasing access to healthcare without limiting personal choices. “He comes from an entrepreneurial mindset, and it’s like all options are on the table.”

Haling, who also worked with cardiac patients, is concerned about people in the current system who have no insurance and seek healthcare only when they are very ill, rather than seeing a provider earlier and controlling a chronic condition with medication, lifestyle changes or early treatment. “It’s discouraging for nurses because nurses know the benefits of prevention,” she said.

As the mother of a 15-year-old daughter with autism, Haling appreciates Obama’s reforms that prohibit insurers from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions and that keep children on their parents’ insurance until they are 26. “These are all huge,” she said. “They make such a difference in the lives of ordinary people.”

Haling said she eventually would like to work in health policy in some way. “This has kind of made me think about how I’m older, more experienced, and I’m ready to take on more leadership.”

McMorris, who has two small children and a third on the way, said when her children are older, she would like to run for office — and she hopes other nurses will do the same, no matter their political affiliation. She has a good friend who she said is as far to the left as she is to the right. “We might have different ideas on how to get there,” she said, “but we want to do the same things.”