Getting Involved with Your Professional Organization

Participation in your professional organization can take many forms. A passive (but certainly important) form of participation is to pay membership dues. Dues support a professional staff and provide support to your colleagues in bringing a professional voice to scope of practice conversations at the state and national levels.

Despite the importance of the professional staff, much of what professional organizations accomplish is dependent upon volunteer efforts of members: NPs, midwives, and PAs across the country who contribute their expertise, energy, time, and perspective.

Raising the profile of the profession and their critical role in the future of health care delivery is one of the important activities of these organizations; the greater the involvement and support, the greater the organization’s professional voice and impact.

How various state organizations structure their professional practice–related activities vary, but all provide guidance and support for developing and maintaining the scope, standards, and competencies of professional practice. Join your organization’s professional practice committee, or form a subcommittee with others working in reproductive health and/or abortion care. Such a subcommittee can:

  • provide support to its members;
  • clarify professional practice issues (e.g., care refusal, restrictive legislation, or regulations);
  • provide expertise to a generic practice committee within the organization; and/or
  • examine the limitations of your state’s practice acts for advancing scope of practice into abortion care and/or provision.

Specialty Organizations—Important Allies with Professional-Role Organizations

Specialty organizations such as the National Abortion Federation (NAF) and Association of Reproductive Health Professionals (ARHP) are critically important in the development and maintenance of practice standards, competencies, and evidence-based clinical guidelines for reproductive health care and abortion care. However, membership in these organizations does not substitute for membership in a national (with state/regional chapters) NP, midwifery, or PA organization.

Working with State-Based Professional Associations: Benefits and Challenges

The relationship between regulatory boards and professional associations is important, as is the need for clinicians to get to know their professional association’s leaders and the issues they are dealing with. Most state associations are powerful forces in influencing scope of practice and political decisions affecting practice. Some things to consider:

  • Understand your state’s unique circumstances. The relationship between professional associations and regulatory boards differs from state to state. Understanding your state will prepare you to develop strategies and messages that will be most effective in meeting your goals. Membership in a state professional association gives you local professional support, a chance to network with colleagues, and to develop state-specific strategies. (State professional associations can often recommend attorneys with expertise in administrative procedures that govern investigations into scope of practice issues.)
  • Don’t allow collective bargaining Collective bargaining is negotiation between organized workers and their employer or employers to determine wages, hours, rules, and working conditions. activities to deter your involvement. In the original APC Toolkit, Sue Davidson, then Assistant Executive Director of Nursing Practice, Education, and Research at the Oregon Nurses Association (ONA), cites the collective bargaining aspect of ONA as one barrier to membership. The perception of “union politics” and the influence of National Nurses United create divisions within the profession and may prevent clinicians from joining their state association.
  • Keep in mind that anyone practicing in today’s health care climate is operating in a politically charged environment–although many practitioners in reproductive health (particularly abortion care) feel that it is the controversial nature of the specialty that makes them vulnerable.

The anti-choice groups are ramping up their efforts to “chip away” at abortion access. We are seeing parental consent bills, bills requiring abortion providers to be obstetrician-gynecologist physicians, bills requiring waiting periods, and “middle of the night” bills introduced to restrict PA practice. We notify state (AAPA) chapters of these legislative measures to restrict PA practice and provide resources so they can respond effectively.1

  • Getting involved can be inspiring and invigorating. The daily demands of practice and busy personal lives make it challenging for clinicians to be involved. Yet it is precisely this involvement that not only protects clinicians by bringing their collective voice to scope of practice determinations but also reinvigorates them.
  • There is strength in numbers. Building alliances with peers and colleagues, presenting a unified voice within one’s professional association, and then representing the views of that profession to the larger community of regulatory boards and legislative bodies can have tremendous impact on the priorities and strategies of those bodies, an impact that cannot be replicated by those working outside a professional association.
  • Regardless of the association’s stance on abortion, you will find colleagues committed to protecting scope of practice, and these colleagues will support a clinician whom they believe to be acting within her/his scope regardless of their political feelings about a patients’ right to choose abortion. Messages like this can go a long way in gaining allies: “No matter how you feel about abortion, this is an issue about scope of practice. It is dangerous to let politically-motivated complaints against nurses drive decisions about the best patient care.”
  • Do not wait for a crisis. Build relationships with members of your state professional association before there is a scope of practice challenge. In some cases, professional associations assume they cannot take a pro-choice stance because their membership would not support it. It is critical that pro-choice clinicians make their presence felt in these associations and help bring the association and reproductive rights groups together in conversation.
  • Understand that the primary job of the regulatory boards is to protect the interests of the public. These politically appointed boards are bound by law to regulate professional practice and education and to discipline any licensed professional who violates the statutes and rules. Professional licensing boards are mandated to investigate any complaint made against an individual clinician. Clinicians who do not understand the roles and responsibilities of the licensing boards may misinterpret board action as adversarial or punitive.

Despite the strong case for professional association membership, some clinicians are concerned about barriers to involvement. Finances might be an issue, particularly when individuals who provide abortion care feel a need to choose between their professional association and associations that specifically serve abortion providers (and they may also have to decide between attendance at professional conferences and clinical training opportunities). For those working in small clinics, this financial barrier, albeit an important professional investment, can feel insurmountable. Some clinicians express reluctance to join their professional association because they feel ostracized for their pro-choice stance or their commitment to providing abortion care. These are valid concerns that clinicians should address with their professional associations and colleagues. However, you would be surprised to learn of strong support for reproductive rights and social/reproductive justice in your professional organizations—at the organizational and individual level. See example of a state-wide coalition in California.

Membership and involvement in one’s professional organizations is a key element of protecting and advancing scope of practice, particularly into politically charged areas of practice such as abortion care.

ORGANIZATIONS IN PARTNERSHIPS: Health Professions, Reproductive Rights/Justice, and Advocacy

The California Coalition for Reproductive Freedom (CCRF) is a statewide alliance of nearly 50 organizations (including nursing, midwifery, and medical groups) working to promote sexual and reproductive health, rights and justice. CCRF supports and facilitates member-driven initiatives including strategic communication, collaboration, and collective policy advocacy to benefit California’s diverse patients, youth, and communities. Member list About CCRF

The Coalition is guided by Values, Best Practices and Rules, a document created by CCRF leadership in collaboration with member organizations for working within and across professional groups as well as working on reproductive rights/reproductive justice policy and advocacy.

Nurses, working individually and collectively, have advanced access to evidence-based sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and abortion care, education, research, and policy. See a RhNursing historical overview of how nurse leaders have continued and extended the work of the Reproductive Options Education in Nursing (ROE) Consortium.

Development of special SRH sections of the American College of Nurse Midwives and the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties as well as the population/sexual health sections of the Am Public Health Assoc can raise the voice of health professionals in abortion care.

Led by Diana Taylor in collaboration with the American Academy of Nursing (AAN) and Women’s Health Expert Panel (WHEP) members, the AAN/WHEP has raised nursing’s voice for SRH and abortion care policies. This foundational work engaged national nursing leaders (within the American Nurses Association and the Academy) to respond to threats of political interference with the patient-provider relationship; ethical and evidence-based standards of care; and patients’ access to safe, quality SRH care, including:

Here are some proactive approaches for clinicians who want to become familiar with their professional community and take advantage of the learning opportunities that exist there:

  • Read your professional practice act. Know how your scope of practice is defined in statute and regulations, including the rules (if any) for how your scope of practice can be advanced.
  • Get to know the members of your licensing board: check out their profiles on the board’s website and/or attend a board meeting. Identify board members who understand scope of practice regulation, and reach out to them before a crisis occurs. See this section for additional strategies for working with state regulatory boards.
  • Participate in practice development or maintenance where you work—for example, in institutional professional practice committees.
  • Attend a meeting of your state professional association, and offer yourself as a resource to those who have questions about reproductive health.
  • Form a practice group to apply your professional code of ethics or conduct to ethical issues in reproductive health and abortion care that are relevant to your practice.
  • Seek membership on practice-related advisory councils associated with primary care or patients’ health. These councils may be at the level of a professional practice organization, the state department of health, the state/county public health system, or a state licensing board.
  • Request a private meeting with the association’s leadership to talk about your practice and the issues that are most important to you.
  • Attend statewide conferences, and submit proposals for workshops focused on the evidence for maintaining access to abortion.
  • Seek appointment to advisory committees and task forces that provide input to your state licensing board or to national councils representing state licensing boards.
  • Offer testimony at state and national hearings on the subjects of proposed regulatory changes, prescriptive authority, or reimbursement schemes.
  • Respond to invitations to review, edit, or provide feedback on circulated drafts of professional and regulatory policies that directly affect education and practice.
  • Use your professional role in the service of your communities: on the PTA, in neighborhood associations, and in other volunteer roles that interest you.
  1. Ann Davis, AAPA Director of State Government Affairs, 2009

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