Across the disciplines, one definition holds true – advocacy entails leadership and advocating for change (Manafo, 2012a). Advocacy is typically seen with a negative connotation with such synonyms as “whistle blowing” and “protesting” (Manafo, 2012a).” However, health care professionals have to understand the responsibility they hold to the citizens of the city they serve (Manafo, 2012a). We can no longer uphold the ideology that we have done “our job” without advocating for our residents’ rights (Manafo, 2012a). It is our responsibility to ensure that the focus on wellbeing of the whole population remains as inequality affects everyone (Manafo, 2012a).
Carlisle believes that all health practitioners should be an advocate for policy changes in their respective fields (Carlisle, 2000). This is particularly important with regards to the healthy public policy. Closing the gap between the rich and poor is essential as health care efforts focus towards making it easier to make knowledge accessible (Manafo, 2012b). But… where do we start?
As a student, the thought of being responsible for the entire city’s health seems like a very daunting, if not intimidating, task. In my mind, it takes a genuinely concerned health care professional to step forward. And all it takes is one. If one person speaks up, he/she will create a movement in doing so and assistance (through other concerned residents, health care professionals, etc.) will likely follow suit. If just one person speaks up, the impact may be phenomenal.
As I previously mentioned, being loud is difficult. It means that you have to put your voice forward and open yourself (whether it be your personal or professional identity, or both) to criticism from differing opinions. However, at the same time, being an advocate means to have unfaltering faith and belief in your stance. Advocacy allows health practitioners to give a voice to those who cannot speak or will not be heard.
As the Communications Director at CAFP Ryerson, I have witnessed, first hand, the flaws and perks of being vocal. The truth of the matter is- if you don’t make that first step and educate others, chances are high that people will never know about your cause. And if you remain strong and willing to put yourself in the limelight for a genuinely worthwhile cause, you won’t be rejected. You will be welcomed with open arms by many and although some may wish to disagree, at least your voice will be heard. It is merely the butterflies and fears of rejection that you have to overcome.
As William Shakespeare once said, “Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” Greatness is, quite simply, contagious. As health practitioners, it is our duty to increase nutrition education and awareness about nutrition policy in our own cities, countries and across the world. For instance, the School Nutrition Policy that was implemented just last September was a great movement towards increasing nutrition awareness and compliance with healthy growth and development goals (Manafo, 2011b). At the same time, it also stirred a lot of confusion. It is in these gaps of understanding (or a lack of) that we need to start “doing” as opposed to just “knowing.” It is not enough that WE as health practitioners know about the healthy guidelines and practices of these new policies. WE have to invoke change by increasing nutrition education and understanding. WE need to utilize our power of knowledge to increase others’ power of enabling and bettering their own lives through the therapeutic power of food and nutrition.
The same can be said about the recently implemented food labels that took Canada by storm in 2007 (Manafo, 2011b). It is amazing that we have been able to mandate food labels and that food companies are responsible for informing consumers of the ingredients that they put in their products. BUT THIS IS NOT ENOUGH. If consumers do not understand food labels or know how to read it, we have only conquered half the battle. Advocacy towards policy change is only one part of the equation, advocacy towards greater nutrition education and awareness is the other, almost as important, part.
By Amy Leong (500264397)
Manafo, E. (2012a). Agency, Change and Leadership – Part I. Week 11 Lecture Notes. Ryerson University.
Manafo, E. (2012b). Agency, Change and Leadership – Part II (Healthy Public Policy). Week 12 Lecture Notes. Ryerson University.
Carlisle, S. (2000). Health promotion, advocacy and health inequalities: a conceptual framework. Health Promotion International, 15(4), 369-375.