It’s Election Day here in the United States and control of Congress hangs in the balance. Physicians have long voted at lower rates than the general population, but a 2021 survey suggests that the number of providers participating in elections may have grown since 2020.
Thanks in large part to a number of nonpartisan organizations who are working to get more doctors and nurses out to vote this election cycle. These groups are trying to educate healthcare workers on how their vote can affect the way they do their jobs.
Kimberly Fleary, a forensic nurse in San Antonio, TX, decided to get involved in politics now that many doctors aren’t comfortable prescribing contraception even though it hasn’t been banned in the state.
“Imagine going to the hospital for help — which takes a lot of courage — after being sexually assaulted and then not getting the help you thought you would get?” Fleary said.
She has been using TikTok to highlight the importance of voting and keeping track of where local politicians stand when it comes to healthcare issues.
“I have seen a large increase of clinicians on social media expressing their views and using their platform to educate and encourage people to vote and to stay informed on current politics. I’ve also seen these clinicians provide websites and phone numbers of organizations people can call, or join, to help fight for women’s rights,” Fleary said.
The group known as Civic Health Alliance (CHA) started the hashtag #VoteHealth2020 to encourage providers of all backgrounds to head to the polls. It was founded by several doctors of color who want to increase turnout among their patients and colleagues.
“We’re nonpartisan. We don’t tell people how to vote — just how important it is that they do,” says Russia Chavis, a communications liaison for the CHA. “It’s hard to ignore it or detach yourself from it. … Policy has impacted their work, but never like this and on so many levels and populations.”
During a recent event with the American Medical Association, CHA founder Dr. Stella Safo, an HIV primary care physician in New York, said doctors should think about how policies on the local, state, and federal level can affect their patients.
“When you have food deserts or systemic racism and its impact on chronic illness, we as clinicians tend to see that and we see it consistently, and yet somehow doctors vote less than lawyers or farmers or teachers,” she said. Safo said she was “really fired up to get all of our physician colleagues and really any of our health care worker colleagues out to engage in voting this year.”
CHA is now connected to several healthcare organizations, all of which have the same goal: getting more people to vote.
One of those groups is Nurses Who Vote, founded by Elizabeth Cohn, a nurse practitioner and professor of nursing and community health at Hunter-Bellevue School of Nursing.
“For us, civic engagement — engagement in voting particularly — is critical. … We see what happens when we don’t. Most certainly these things have been a motivator,” Cohn said about the impact of the COVID pandemic, monkeypox outbreak and the recent overturning of Roe v Wade. She also referenced a report by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion that found voting to be a social determinant of health.
“With that being included now, as a factor in healthy people, we know that voting can … actually improve community health and individual health,” she said.
Cohn said nurses remain evenly split among Democrats and Republicans, but she isn’t trying to sway their vote one way or another. Instead, Nurses Who Vote strives to create a safe space for nurses to discuss and learn about issues that affect their practice and patients.
“We try to get nurses to look at every election through the lens of health because we all care deeply about the health of our patients, our communities,” Cohn said. “We’re really trying to unite nurses around using this lens of health to influence the choices they might make when they’re at the voting box.”
The organization also provides a database where nurses can find information about who’s running for office in their district and where the candidates stand on healthcare-related issues.
They have also been promoting the hashtag #nursesvote on social media. The challenge is designed to encourage nurses to show off their civic engagement.
Don’t forget to get out and vote today to make your voice heard.