Nurses In Politics


Can Cool-Under-Pressure nurses solve our political woes?

The political climate is a torrid one in modern times! Media headlines are filled with politicians body slamming reporters for asking about health care reform, misconduct allegations and tweets that should never be tweeted! Has the time come for politicians to step aside and let nurses take the lead in the political arena?

The average citizen who has never encountered a nurse in real life may question his or her qualifications in running for a leadership position. What qualifies a nurse to run for a political office? What do you know about leadership? Aren’t you supposed to be at the bedside emptying out bedpans?

Unfortunately, the media often portrays the nursing profession as subservient and powerless. Nurses are an uber-powerful breed! They are taught to assess, diagnose and get down to the nitty gritty of any problem ASAP. They are expert critical thinkers and use evidence-based research. They thrive in chaotic environments, are often placed in life or death situations, and can problem solve to come up with solutions at warp speed! Just the mere fact that nurses spend endless hours in nursing school composing care plans for their patients: organizing care for each patients specific needs shows that they care about the issues and place humanity at a higher level.

When it comes to ethics, Nurses are popular! According to Gallup Polls 2017:
For the 16th consecutive year, Americans’ ratings of the honesty and ethical standards of 22 occupations find nurses at the top of the list. More than eight in 10 (82%) Americans describe nurses’ ethics as “very high” or “high.” In contrast, about six in 10 Americans rate members of Congress (60%) and lobbyists (58%) as “very low” or “low” when it comes to honesty and ethical standards.”

Why aren’t more Nurses running for office?

“Fear, pure and simple!” stated Dr. Beth Haney DNP, FNP-C, FAANP. “Nurses are leaders when they feel comfortable or empowered. Stepping out of our comfort zone is scary and intimidating. We watch good people run for office and get slammed in the media, who needs that? I say it’s time to jump in and see what happens, no risk equals no progress.”

Dr. Haney ran for the office of Yorba Linda City Council for the state of California in 2016 and won. She had experience serving on boards such as California Nurse Practitioner Association. Apart from being a Nurse Practitioner, she’s a nurse educator and a business owner. Once elected into office, she stated one of the challenges she faced was learning all the fascinating aspects of running a city in a short amount of time. “It was like drinking from a fire hose!”

When asked if other board members took her seriously coming from a nursing background she stated: “Nursing requires critical thinking and evidence to make decisions. This was an easy fit for me. Leading our state NP organization for 2 years and being on the board of directors for 8 years taught me a lot about organizational leadership. This really helped me. However, I knew nothing about the specific departments of my city and that was a mistake on my part. I should have learned more about public works and community development before I ran; it would have made it easier for me. I felt like I had to prove myself to me, and not to anyone else!

Motivation and Passion

“Find something you really care about. Have passion for what you want to do and do something about it!” stated Helen M. Thomson, a registered nurse who has served in several elective offices.

“No one on the school board had children in schools, that’s why I decided to run!”

Caring about the school board in Davis, California ignited Thomson’s public service career in 1974. She was elected as a member of the Davis Joint Unified School District Board of Education and then the Yolo County Board of Supervisors in 1986 and reelected in 1990 and 1994.

In 1996 she won the 8th District seat in the California State Assembly where she served three terms. Thomson chaired both the Health Committee and the Select Committee on Mental Health. Additionally, she served on five other Assembly standing committees, leadership teams of four Speakers and other leadership roles.

“I felt people trusted and listened to me because I was a nurse,” That was her strength in getting 81 bills she authored signed into law by both Democratic and Republican governors. Most notably was AB 88, the mental health parity bill, which ended the discrimination in insurance benefits for those who suffer from mental illness.

Dr. Beth Haney also agrees that being a nurse gives her extra muscle. “I know how to effectively get consensus by articulating my position, and in the end, if I’m out voted or couldn’t convince someone to agree, I’m good with it because I’ve learned from them as well. I’ve learned that my own agenda is not important. I’m working for others. I always have!”

What does a Nurse need in order to run for office?

“If you want to run for a particular office it’s best to know the district. How many democrats and republicans are there? What’s the population comprised of? Get educated. Do your research and know your city. Support of family, friends, and community is important!” advises Thomson.

For Dr. Haney, a strong community base was key. “I had a started a practice in Yorba Linda in 2006, my community base was strong. I see about 3500 patients a year, and one of the Nurse Practitioners who works for me belongs to a huge church community. I have a lot of friends and people who believe in me. I also hired a great campaign manager!”

Where do you begin?

If you’re thinking, “I can do that! I want run for office, but where do I begin?” you can start by running for a position on your professional nursing organization, board of directors for a nonprofit, nursing school alumni or home owners association board. The best thing to do is get some kind of experience, and see if a leadership role is a good fit for you.

“Serving on boards in your professional organizations helps you to have an idea of how organizations run effectively,” advises Dr. Haney.

“Fill roles at the board of supervisors, advisory committees, and mental health boards. These are areas where nurses can make a huge impact,” states Thomson. Nurses do not need to leave their jobs in order to run for office. Many roles are part time and or voluntary basis.

There are several women’s and community organizations that offer training for people wanting to run for office. Many nursing schools like UC Davis offer leadership training as well.


Running for office can be costly. Campaign managers, advertisements, and time are all key factors that can drive your overhead and possibly detour you from running for political office. But should you wait to run for office until you can afford it?

“Start! Go! Do it!” states Dr. Haney. If you lose the first time you’ll learn so much and will be unstoppable the next time. Don’t wait until you’re ready (You’ll never be ready). Don’t wait until you have the money, you’ll get it if people believe in you!”

It’s been rough out in the political world lately!

“Nurses need to grow a thick skin when running for office in today’s political climate. A lack of respect and heated arguments that are currently occurring are driving good people away. Our government is becoming one that is not functional!” Thomson offers this advice for any nurse wanting to run for political office.

Dr. Haney suggests to “Fine tune and focus your principles and beliefs, you’ll be able to articulate your ideas better.”

Perhaps nurses are the answer to draining the murky waters of the political swamp and making America great again! Issues like health care reform, mental health, opioid addiction, homelessness, and viral outbreaks are reaching epidemic proportions. Career politicians display their ignorance with violent public outbursts. Voting against bills that risk the health and welfare of citizens. We have politicians with no healthcare background making decisions for the mass populations.

When asked if she would run for a second term, Dr. Beth Haney stated, “Yes, I’ll be running for City Council again. I’ve helped the Nurse Practitioner agenda in California by increasing awareness of our profession to a group of elected colleagues from all over the state. Some didn’t know what an NP was! City Council is local politics and this is where things happen that matter to each resident personally. I enjoy being able to impact my own community. As far as another seat, the future is a mystery!”

Beth Thomson is retired from public service. However, even in this tumultuous political climate, she states she would definitely run for office again!

Perhaps George Orwell said it best, “In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.”

A shift needs to happen. It’s time that nurses heed the call. Take action by running for a political office!


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