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HealthMarch 15, 2021

Political competence an essential skill in nursing professional development

By: Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN
In the latest issue of the Journal for Nurses in Professional Development,1 Carol Johnson, PhD, RN, NPD-BC, NE-BC, FAAN describes political competence as an essential skill for nursing professional development (NPD) practitioners.

While many NPD professionals may not think of participation in politics as a necessary part of their practice, NPD leaders must demonstrate political competence to effectively advocate for legislation which impacts NPD practice and improves patient outcomes.

Johnson writes that, along with voting, engaging legislators at the local, regional, and national level is a key step toward achieving this goal. NPD leaders should keep in mind that the legislative process takes time—on the national level, any new legislation must go through a 14-step process before becoming law. The legislative process takes, on average, between five and 10 years to complete.1

Guidelines for effective nursing political advocacy

To help guide NPD professionals in effective political advocacy, Johnson recommends that leaders keep the following basic guidelines in mind:1

  • Take time to build relationships with legislators and their staff members. Knowing their values and where they stand on issues can be a tremendous benefit when advocating for important healthcare-related issues.
  • Arrange a first meeting with a legislator in a public place. Try to make the meeting more general as opposed to trying to get an agenda across.
  • Don’t waste the legislator’s time. NPD leaders are experts in many healthcare issues. As such, they should focus on factual and accurate information while presenting their position succinctly.
  • Personalize the message. If NPD leaders speak to a legislator’s heart, mind, and health, they may get a better response.
  • Be prepared to answer questions honestly. If NPD professionals don’t know the answer to specific questions, they should admit that openly. But don’t leave the legislator hanging—always offer to follow up with them after identifying answers.
  • Follow up with the legislator to thank them, reinforce the major points of the conversation, and answer any unresolved questions.

Johnson also notes that NPD leaders can take on involvement in local campaigns. This may involve volunteering to canvass, preparing campaign materials, or making phone calls in support of candidates. For some NPD leaders, these types of activities may even eventually lead to running for elected office themselves.

  1. Johnson, Carol Susan PhD, RN, NPD-BC, NE-BC, FAAN. “Continued Leadership Development for Nursing Professional Development Practitioners: Political Competence.” NursingCenter, 2021,
  2. “The Legislative Process: Overview (Video).”, 2021,
Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN
Freelance Health and Medical Content Writer, Wolters Kluwer Health
Sarah has over nine years’ experience in various clinical areas, including surgery, endocrinology, family practice, and pharmaceuticals. She began writing professionally in 2016 as a way to use her medical knowledge beyond the bedside to help educate and inform healthcare consumers and providers.
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