What’s the difference between nurse advocacy and nurse lobbying?

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Nurse practitioner talking with patient.

Advocacy and lobbying are familiar concepts for nurses, who may engage in either of those activities daily. However, while they share many similarities, there is a fundamental difference in advocacy and lobbying.

Regardless, both professions require similar skills, which include deft interpersonal communication and relationship-building, as well as intricate knowledge of policy. Many nurses interested in advocacy, lobbying or both can build those competencies by earning an online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).

To understand what separates advocating for the safety of patients and actual lobbying for better regulations to improve patient safety, let’s look at the definitions and examine real-world examples of each.

What are advocacy and lobbying?

While similar concepts, the actual definitions of advocacy and lobbying help outline a fundamental difference. According to Merriam-Webster, advocacy is “the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal.” On the other hand, to lobby is defined as “to promote (something, such as a project) or secure the passage of (legislation) by influencing public officials.” So although advocacy and lobbying are related at the core — a nurse advocates or lobbies to raise awareness of an issue — the actual intent of the act is different.

To advocate is to bring up and publicize an issue within a community, like making health care a part of the national discussion and a focus in the media. To lobby is to direct that effort at those in positions of power, namely public officials, politicians, governmental bodies and regulatory agencies. For example, when the Affordable Care Act was being crafted, nurses and professional associations were key voices in ensuring nurses had input on provisions and were involved in the process of creating the final legislation.

What is advocacy in nursing?

Medical professionals talking together.Now that a more clear line has been made between advocacy and lobbying, let’s examine examples of patient advocacy in nursing. The scope of advocacy in nursing is immense. Nurses advocate for their patients, coworkers, employees and themselves. It’s common to encounter nurse advocacy throughout the workplace, like appealing for improvements that increase the quality of care or advocating for the adoption of technology to better serve patients. Nurse leaders and nurse executives have an essential duty to advocate for their nurses and patients, conveying concerns or communicating staffing needs. Nurses may also champion causes, like awareness campaigns for diseases or health issues relevant to their specialty. Advocacy can also occur outside the organization, like speaking on behalf of patients’ rights as consumers in light of overall industry trends.

Advocates need to be vocal on a number of issues. And nurse advocates have many platforms from which to speak. Not only can they advocate to decision-makers in their organizations; they can also utilize forums like social media or professional conferences to publicize issues and gain support.

However, there is some overlap between advocacy and lobbying. Sometimes, advocates will come in contact with public officials and elected representatives. They may meet with a local politician about a particular issue, or write a representative in Congress about the effects of a law. This is not technically lobbying, as it is a general effort to raise awareness or start a conversation.

What do nurse lobbyists do?

Nurse lobbyists can be differentiated through their express intent to drive those conversations toward a clear objective: influencing public policy or the creation of legislation. While advocacy may be the spark to the grassroots movement, lobbying is the means to the end of effecting that desired change. Nurse lobbyists are active across local, state and federal levels, and may work for all kinds of organizations in health care, or interested in it. For instance, nurse lobbyists may be employed by:

  • Health care organizations, including hospital systems and independent practices
  • Pharmaceutical companies and insurance groups
  • Professional associations like the American Nurses Association or the American College of Nurse-Midwives
  • Groups that focus on advancing public health or patient rights
  • Health care technology firms developing telehealth solutions or implantable devices
  • Governmental bodies like the Department of Veterans Affairs or nurse unions

Professional nurse lobbyists are the conduit for advocacy campaigns to reach those in positions of power. While a U.S. senator may receive hundreds of letters on an issue, the nurse lobbyist is the person who can directly lay out concerns or opportunities and work with the politician’s office to ensure those sentiments are addressed in legislation.

How to become a nurse lobbyist

Lobbyists, and advocates in general, need particular skills to be successful. Not only does that include a strong mastery of basic nursing concepts, but also insight into policy creation and interprofessional relationships. Policy knowledge is crucial because, in order to make an impact, lobbyists need to understand what goes on behind the scenes. Advocates can also gain by knowing how to translate causes into policy appeals. Interprofessional communication is key, such as that between nurse lobbyists and politicians, or between nurse leaders and other patient-safety stakeholders. Advocates and lobbyists must collaborate and work on shared missions.

Learn about health care policy at Bradley

Nurses interested in advocacy and lobbying can sharpen the necessary skills by earning a doctoral degree from Bradley. The online DNP program at Bradley includes courses that help build those competencies, including NUR 640 – Healthcare Policy, in which students explore development and implementation of policy, focusing on the wellness and promotion of health for local, national and worldwide populations. Nurses will study provider roles in care delivery and quality improvement. Interested in more information about the Bradley DNP program and other learning outcomes? Contact an enrollment advisor today.

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