5 Ways Nurses Can Shape Policy

Mature female nurse practitioner heading committee
Mature female nurse practitioner heading committee

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Policymaking is crucially important to public health, and doctorally prepared nurses are uniquely qualified to play a leading role in the development of nursing policy. While legislators are experts in drafting laws and regulations, they often rely on subject matter experts to inform them on the changes, updates and advancements that push policy evolution forward.

Nurses have the expertise and experience to advocate for their patients and their industry from the halls of hospitals to the halls of Congress. Nurses have had and will continue to have tremendous influence on health care policy and Marymount University is preparing nurses to lead that charge.

Nurses are some of the most trusted professionals in the U.S. economy and have been for nearly two decades. Their voices carry weight and are considered not just authoritative, but ethical, honest and patient-centered. Nursing’s influence on health care policy cannot be understated. Here are five ways nurses who want to transform the patient experience can shape nursing policy.

 

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1. Leverage Leadership Skills

As a nurse, you can lend your trusted voice, experience, and credibility to lead your community and have a greater impact in local governance.

Lead Community Health Initiatives

Nurses can lead community health initiatives such as disease screening events to raise awareness of important health issues or vaccination events to increase uptake of vital public health resources. Because they form such close relationships with their patients, nurses are often some of the best-suited care providers to do community engagement work. They can leverage the trust they’ve built to foster good will and improve patient compliance with medical recommendations.

Educate Your Community

Nurses can provide a fact-based, informed perspective in community meetings and decipher clinical information for lay people in their community. There are opportunities to provide public comment on the local government level at town halls and city council meetings, as well as on school boards and in public health departments.

Nurses not only translate scientific information; they also help distinguish between fact and fiction. This has been especially true during the pandemic. Nurses have been an important voice in dispelling myths and falsehoods about the virus and vaccines, and they have helped raise awareness and provide clarity on public health measures including mask-wearing, hand-washing, social distancing and stay-at-home orders.

Strengthen the Nurse Pipeline

Communities are only as strong and healthy as their nurse network, and some cities and states have suffered nurse shortages due to a variety of nursing policy changes that withdrew funding from working and aspiring nurses. Nurse leaders can advocate for funding for nursing schools so there are enough institutions to train aspiring nurses; they can advocate for student nurse tuition funding and/or loan forgiveness so aspiring nurses are not barred from the profession by financial constraints; and they can advocate for funding of local hospitals, clinics, and public health initiatives so registered nurses have the opportunity to serve the needs of their communities.

A group of health care workers in a meeting wearing masks

2. Practice Patient Advocacy

Nurses can bring their patient advocacy skills to the boardroom for policy transformation. A doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree opens doors to executive leadership roles within hospitals, health systems, and clinics. Nurse executives have the business and clinical perspective to shed light on how nursing policy directly influences patient outcomes as well as the bottom line for health care institutions.

Push for Shared Governance Models

Nurse leaders can promote shared governance models at their employer, which is a decision-making model that empowers nurses to make decisions about nursing practice and elevates their proximity to patients as a valuable asset in their ability to make good choices. By deputizing nurses, patients benefit because decisions about their care are being made by professionals who are intimately aware of the details of their health as well as the way those details may change from day to day, or even hour to hour.

Optimize Working Conditions

Some other ways nursing leaders can advocate for patients include:

  • Advocating for the nurses who work on their teams to optimize staffing levels, ensure adequate supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) and prioritize professional development, allowing them to focus on patient care rather than on-the-job challenges
  • Promote safe working conditions that benefit nurses and patients by protecting them from accidents and oversight
  • Advocate for full practice authority for advanced practice nurses (APRNs) and nurse practitioners (NPs) so that patients living in underserved areas can have access to the high-quality care enjoyed by patients in densely populated and urban settings
  • Raise awareness of new research, technologies, and standards of care that offer patients better outcomes—whether they be more effective, more affordable, safer, or more in line with their personal preferences—and advocate for their adoption by health care institutions

3. Get Involved in Local Policymaking

As a nurse, you can seek out areas of nursing policy you’d like to influence and get involved with nursing organizations that provide information about participating in policymaking activities. Especially during the pandemic, nursing organizations have been instrumental in raising awareness of supply chain problems, equipment shortages, and the challenges of making care decisions during patient surges.

Gain Experience

Marymount University’s Washington, D.C., location makes it ideally situated for students to gain access to both the national and state capitals. Throughout their education, Marymount students learn about the legislative process and the state of nursing policy. During residency, nurses are able to meet with legislators and gain the experience needed to become confident leaders and advocates.

Join a National Nursing Organization

At the national level, you can join groups like the American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL), the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) or any of a number of specialty-focused associations. These groups will have a variety of opportunities for members to shape nursing’s influence on health care policy. From letter writing, to meeting with legislators, to contributing to political action committees, nurses can advance their causes in ways that allow them to utilize their knowledge and strengths.

Through these societies, nurses can connect with colleagues from different regions, share information, and pool their empirical evidence to present stronger, united arguments for the changes they hope to see in their industry, communities, and workplaces. These groups are on the front lines, campaigning for legislation that directly impacts the nation’s supply of nurses, nurse working conditions, health care accessibility, and patient outcomes.

Join a State Nursing Organization

Many national nursing organizations also have state chapters or societies whose goals are even more targeted toward shaping nursing policy in their specific state. Especially for NPs, these groups offer the opportunity to advocate for full practice authority, which is not a nationally accepted standard. These organizations may have internships or fellowships for nurses to learn about policymaking and gain experience.

Run for Office

Nurses can even run for public office, serving their communities in a variety of elected positions. Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas was the first nurse to be elected to Congress in 1992. She was followed by nurse-congresswomen Cori Bush of Missouri and Lauren Underwood of Illinois.

Health care workers in a meeting

4. Encourage Change

Nurses can be changemakers by mentoring and sharing knowledge with nursing students to ensure the next generation of nurses has the skills and confidence to reform nursing policy.

Go Back to Your Roots

One place to start can be by connecting with your alma maters—both your secondary and post-secondary schools. Nurses can reach out to their former teachers, professors, and program directors to see if there are any opportunities to guest-speak to students. Especially at the high school level, students are likely unaware of nursing’s influence on health care policy, and working nurses can help them visualize the many ways nurses participate in the policymaking process that aren’t always represented in books and the media.

Prepare Future Policy Influencers

Many national and state nursing organizations and societies offer mentorship programs for which seasoned nurses can volunteer. The need for nursing influence on health care policy is ever-present, so nurses must always be mindful of the next generation who will carry forward the work they’ve started. Mentoring younger or less-experienced nurses on how to lobby policymakers, campaign for public support, fundraise, and speak publicly are all important aspects of advocacy mentorship. Your nursing association may even have a student or college chapter that would be interested in hosting a working nurse for a Q&A or establishing a mentorship program.

Be a Mentor

At the same time, these organizations—and even your employer—offer opportunities to mentor new nurses on political advocacy and professional development. Nurse leaders can:

  • Help other nurses practice public speaking and communication skills so that they are comfortable participating in public discourse and boardroom discussions
  • Train other nurses how to write letters to elected officials, fundraise and campaign for causes and nursing policy important to them
  • Offer advice on maintaining a work-life balance
  • Make introductions, connections, and recommendations to help qualified nurses get recognized for job opportunities
  • Help young nurses develop professional goals and a plan to achieve them—whether they become a nurse executive or return to school
  • Become a preceptor for the next generation of nurses

Nurse practitioner in a white lab coat reading a book

5. Pursue Higher Education

While nurses can participate in policymaking at any educational level, pursuing an advanced degree is an effective way to get a seat at the nursing policy table. Earning a DNP demonstrates nurses’ expertise at the highest level of practice, represents their commitment to advancing health outcomes, and distinguishes them as a thought leader.

Registered nurses (RNs), NPs, and APRNs can all pursue DNP degrees. In fact, the DNP has been recognized by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) as “the most appropriate degree for advanced-practice registered nurses to enter practice.” Some schools offer online programs, which allow working nurses to achieve their doctoral degree without putting their careers on hold.

Marymount University Online MSN to DNP Program

Marymount’s online MSN-DNP program is Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) accredited and U.S. News & World Report ranked. Marymount gives students unparalleled access to the nation’s policymaking hub. Marymount is known as a Catholic university focused on inclusion, service to others, and equity. Students contribute to nursing’s influence on health care policy from day one through applied research and a comprehensive quality improvement project designed to make a difference in their respective communities.

With its online format, nurses can pursue a Marymount DNP from anywhere. Students receive mentorship from seasoned nurses and are prepared to assume leadership roles in the health care system. DNP candidates must hold a master of science in nursing (MSN) degree and an unencumbered RN license in their state.

Whether you’re an RN or APRN, if you want to deepen your knowledge of health care policy and systems and apply your knowledge to make an impact on nursing policy, a DNP may be right for you.

Learn more about Marymount’s MSN-DNP program.

 

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