How Does Nursing Influence Health Care Policy?

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Nurses and nurse practitioners gather together wearing their whitecoats and scrubs

Health care policy has important implications for all of us who rely on our health care system. We continually search for ways to make health care affordable and efficient for everyone. Behind this pursuit are talented nursing professionals who advocate for specific policies they believe will benefit us. To become well-versed in this type of decision-making, nurses must gain professional and educational experience. This article discusses the impact and responsibilities of nurse practitioners, how nursing influences health care policy, and how to leverage experience and education into greater roles for nurses. For individuals interested in careers that can influence the future of health care policy, the discussion may inspire you to action.

The Role of Nurses in Shaping Health Care Policy

Nursing influences health care policy through a nurse’s daily role in health care delivery. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, nursing is the largest health care profession in the United States, with more than 3.8 million registered nurses (RNs) nationwide. It’s an independent field of medicine, and a nurse is not merely an assistant to other medical professionals. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the employment of nurses will increase by 15% between 2016 and 2026, which is faster than the national average for all occupations. The median annual pay for nurses is $71,730 in the U.S. Clearly, nursing is an important component of the health care system.

Since RNs spend a lot of time working directly with patients, they know the specific needs of the communities they serve. In turn, RNs are excellent advocates for public policy development. Groups such as the Association of Public Health Nurses encourage RNs to advocate for health care policies and provide resources on how to do so. The APHN breaks advocacy into three components: “creating policies where they are needed when none exist, reforming harmful or ineffective policies, [and] ensuring good policies are implemented and enforced.”

The Journal for Nurse Practitioners indicates that nurses play an integral role in changing health policy on multiple levels. For one, nurses can conduct quality improvement projects on the job. They can also attend local meetings, such as parent-teacher association or school board meetings, to share their expertise and advice. Finally, nurses can write to their political representatives to advise them on key health-related issues.

Roles and Responsibilities of Nurse Practitioners

Nurse practitioners are registered nurses who have received specialized training in a particular field. As such, they are better equipped to make larger-scale changes to the health care system through their mastery in areas such as policy, finance, and leadership. The following responsibilities are associated with nurse practitioners:

● Write prescriptions
● Diagnose and provide treatment for infection, injury, and illness
● Conduct diagnostic tests, such as X-rays
● Monitor patient medical history, diagnoses, and symptoms
● Communicate with patients about their health, as well as assist in setting up appropriate treatment plans and follow-up care
● Guide patients who are taking medication, including counseling on side effects and interactions
Since specializations differ among nurse practitioners, their day-to-day focus can shift between roles. For instance, some NPs are more involved in counseling and preventive care, while others spend their time making diagnoses and treating conditions.

Leveraging Experience for a Greater Impact

A nursing professional’s level of experience and education can have a large impact on his or her income and autonomy. For instance, licensed practical nurses need only one or two years of training and must work exclusively under the supervision of a doctor or registered nurse. Individuals who want their nursing to affect health care policy need to acquire valuable experience to increase their responsibilities.

An effective way for nurses to signal to employers they are ready to move forward in their careers is to acquire a higher degree or certification, such as a Master of Science in Nursing, Doctor of Nursing Practice, or post-master’s graduate certificate. As large hospitals seek to reduce costs, many medical responsibilities that used to be exclusively performed by doctors are delegated to highly trained nurses. Moreover, the demand for nurses continues to rise in the U.S. Nurses will be at the forefront of health care policy through their continued interaction with and advocacy on behalf of patients.

Help Influence the Future of Health Care

Nurse practitioners have an opportunity to serve as advocates for patients, families, communities, other nurses, and health care organizations. Through this advocacy, nurses can influence health care policy. By gaining a comprehensive understanding of and specialization in particular areas of health care, nurse practitioners are uniquely situated to support positions that will benefit our communities. If becoming a nurse practitioner appeals to you, Regis College offers fully online Master of Science in Nursing, Doctor of Nursing Practice, and post-master’s certificate programs for nurses who want to make a difference and advance their careers. Because the coursework is completely online, nurses can continue to practice while they gain knowledge and experience.

Recommended Reading:
The Key Traits of an Educated Nurse
How Will Attending Nursing Education Seminars Enhance Your Job Qualifications?
Nursing Skills for Resume Building: How DNPs Translate Evidence into Practice

All Nursing Schools, “Nursing Career Path”
American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Nursing Fact Sheet
Journal for Nurse Practitioners, “Nurse Practitioners Have an Essential Role in Health Policy”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses