There's a saying that if you don't have a seat at the table, you're likely to end up on the menu. For nurses and the nursing profession, this could not be more true. Nurses need a seat at the table, and if it's not being freely offered, we need to elbow our way in, grab a chair and sit right down.

Nurses: Proactive vs. reactive

Nurses' voices are indeed heard, but at times it seems we need to really turn up the volume in order to rise above the noise — the recent brouhaha over Joy Behar, Miss America and The View comes to mind. When things heat up and nurses are showcased in a negative light, members of the profession come out swinging. This is understandable, but having a seat at the table means being more proactive than reactive.

Being positive is important, and our collective positivity can indeed make a difference.

Elbowing our way in

If nurses want to have a seat at the table, there is a plethora of means to that end. From social media and traditional print media to sitting down with a member of Congress, a seat at the table is waiting for us to claim it as our own.

One way to grab that seat is to speak out on salient issues. Nurses are a wealth of information, and we can speak up at city council and school board meetings, through letters to the editor, or by meeting with power brokers in our communities. We can also get on the contact lists of editors and news organizations, making ourselves readily available for commentary on timely subjects.

Many state nursing associations lobby state legislatures and Congress regarding pertinent issues; some nurses get involved in their state nursing organization's efforts in this regard. The New Mexico Nurses Association, for example, lobbies heavily when it comes to staffing, infringements on nurses' scope of practice and other cogent issues related to the nursing profession and public health. This type of out-front leadership is an example for all of us.

The table is large

To get a seat at the table, we sometimes have to make noise, or we need to develop relationships with those who have ears to listen.

It truly doesn't matter whether this is done through the media, a legislative body, a podcast, a blog or conversations with the general public. The point is that nurses can insinuate themselves into conversations at myriad levels, and if opportunities aren't forthcoming, we can create those opportunities by being forthright and assertive (and appropriately noisy).

The table where important discourse happens is large, both in the public and private sectors. If nurses want a seat, we need to realize we won't always be invited directly.

If we stand in the shadows of physicians, we'll be seen as diminutive and subservient. But if we stand on our own two feet and seize a seat at the table with our words and deeds, there are plenty of people who want to hear what the most trusted profession in the country has to say.