Nursing as a radical act

The reality of providing care often challenges our initial assumptions of what we thought nursing would be, while also illuminating the powerful impact outside influences, such as climate change, poverty, and violence, have on the people we serve. Ethical dilemmas are plentiful in nursing; for example, many of us struggle to navigate complex health systems where accountability is often to an employer, as opposed to the public who seek our care.

A desire to discuss these challenges drew nurses from the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. to gather in mid-summer 2018, at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst School of Nursing, for a two day nurse activism think tank. In telling stories of reckoning with our roles as patient advocates, powerful stories of nurse activism emerged. Gun control, universal healthcare, non-violence education, harm reduction for injection drug users, reproductive health, and universal healthcare access were some of the individual efforts already underway and shared by participants.

The impetus for the gathering came from nursing theorist and activist, Peggy L. Chinn, RN, PhD, FAAN who runs the Nursing Manifesto: A Call to Conscience and Action website, among many other nurse-centered initiatives. The gist of the Nursing Manifesto is to reclaim our sovereignty as nurses by recognizing our frustration with the status quo, and transforming that energy into activism. The site provides practical, action steps to engage with others on big-picture issues through a range of mediums that include, storytelling, community-meetings, and engaging in participatory research.

The adage, “The person is political,” means that social and societal structures and institutions, such as healthcare legislation, hospital and state budgets, climate change, poverty, and violence, have an impact, not only on the people we care for, but also our nursing practice and our own mental, physical, and spiritual health. Reclaiming our sovereignty as nurses includes taking a critical look at the issues impacting the way we care and how we can make positive change. The Radical Nurses blog is inspired by the idea that nursing is a radical act, and is intended to be a place to connect with nurses who seek to address inequities and develop tools and resources to promote health. Welcome!

If the concepts shared here resonate with you, and you would like to contribute a blog post, please reach out!


Vanessa Shields-Haas is a radical nurse and author of She advocates for harm reduction approaches to care and reproductive freedom for women in the deep South.

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