7 Ways to Have a Voice in Shaping Cancer Health Policy

By Elaine S. DeMeyer, RN, MSN, AOCN®, BMTCN® - Last Updated: February 28, 2022

Oncology nurses are essential advocates for health policy that affects cancer care. As frontline care team members who spend the most time with patients, you are in the unique position to relate personal experiences of how health policy affects the care patients receive. You can become the voice for your patients and raise awareness of needs and preferences regarding cancer care. In addition, you understand the “big picture” and the impact of policy on healthcare.

What Is Health Policy Advocacy?

The World Health Organization defines health policy as “the decision, plans, and actions that are undertaken to achieve specific healthcare goals within a society.” Health policy involves any law, regulation, or research that affects patient health and healthcare providers. By definition, advocacy is the support or defense of a cause or the act of leading on behalf of another person. You, as oncology nurses, advocate every day on behalf of your patients. You constantly strive to protect the health, welfare, safety, and rights of patients.

Collective Oncology Nursing Voice

Advocacy is one of the Oncology Nursing Society’s (ONS) core values and, according to the American Nurses Association, a pillar of nursing. Both organizations recognize that collectively, nurses have “power in numbers.” Like many nursing specialty organizations, the Director of Health Policy leads the ONS’s healthcare legislative and regulatory affairs at the national level. The ONS Center for Advocacy and Health Policy is a hub for information about cancer policy priorities, ONS position statements, health policy resources or coalitions, and more.

The ONS provides a collective voice by arranging for its members to testify before Congress, the FDA, and the National Institutes of Health on healthcare issues that affect oncology nurses and patients with cancer. Every year, oncology nurses from across the United States join together during Capitol Hill Days to influence the legislative environment.

In addition, the ONS empowers you, as oncology nurses, to make changes in your own communities. For example, many local chapters, like the Bluegrass ONS Chapter, host an Oncology Nursing Advocacy Event for nurses in Kentucky. ONS Director of Health Policy Alec Stone often speaks to local oncology nursing groups and connects with oncology nurses through multiple platforms, including @ONSAlec on Twitter. ONS members can sign up for Advocacy News weekly emails that not only state the issue, but ONS response.

Using Your Voice

Many oncology nurses instinctively advocate for their patients in their workplace and communities but may not know the many ways their voice can help shape health policy. Below are 7 ways you can increase your sphere of influence:

  1. Learn how policy is made.
  2. Know who makes policy at your workplace and in your community.
  3. Explore which health policies matter most to you.
  4. Investigate which legislator supports a policy of interest to you.
  5. Write to your legislator about issues affecting your patients’ care.
  6. Inform your colleagues about opportunities to influence policy change.
  7. Join organizations who lobby on behalf of patients or nurses.

As oncology nurses, you can become health policy advocates on all different levels—at the organizational, community, state, and federal levels. Advocate for your patients—and for your profession. Develop your plan . . . and act!


Health System Governance


ONS Center for Advocacy and Health Policy

Advocacy and Health Policy Events

Oncology Nursing Society Bluegrass Chapter