At this critical point in nursing development, major medical bodies worldwide are stating the need for nursing professionals to involve themselves more in advocacy, leadership and policy formulation. Even in a medical setting, the significance of good leadership and quality policies cannot be overstated. That notwithstanding, nurses continue to be left behind regarding healthcare policies, which is quite surprising considering nurses are the largest group in the global healthcare workforce.
On the one hand, the sheer number of nurses in the industry can potentially influence healthcare policies on a massive scale. On the other hand, nurses have a moral and professional obligation to help their patients, which means engaging in policies that impact them. Regardless of how you choose to look at it, nurses should be a significant part of policymaking. As such, we’ll examine how nurses can influence policies in the healthcare industry.
What is healthcare policy?
According to the World Health Organization, healthcare policy refers to the plans, decisions and actions undertaken to achieve a specific healthcare goal within a society. Essentially, healthcare policies cover any regulation, process or research that impacts patients and medical providers.
Throughout the healthcare industry, nurses have been identified as the most trusted professionals in the sector, owing to the personal connection they make with patients. Hence, nursing professionals are essential in shaping healthcare policies. Since nurses spend a lot of time working directly with patients, they can identify patients’ specific needs and requirements and that of the communities they serve. This knowledge ensures nurses are excellent advocates for public policy development.
Over time, there have been efforts to include more nurses in policymaking, especially from groups such as the Association of Public Health Nurses (APHN) and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP). These groups lobby extensively for policy reforms and advocate for nurses’ inclusion at different decision-making levels. Although the desired level of inclusion is not yet realized, current signs suggest nurses will be integral to policymaking very soon.
How nurses can influence healthcare policies
There are several ways nurses can streamline and make impactful changes in public healthcare policies. By virtue of their real-world clinical experience and relationship levels with patients and communities, nurses are critical to recognizing areas that need urgent attention and ineffective policies that need reform, as well as ensuring quality policies are enforced for the benefit of patients and healthcare providers.
- Prepare for administrative roles through higher education
A nurse’s participation in healthcare policymaking is not precisely limited to educational qualifications. However, obtaining an advanced degree is a sure way to explore top positions in the industry and have a say in policy decisions.
One well-tailored program for registered nurses seeking to prepare themselves for the highest level of nursing practice is the Baylor University online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program. This program develops professionals into nursing leaders capable of shaping and improving patient outcomes through quality processes and policies. The DNP program also offers different tracks based on your career path, including pediatric nursing, nurse-midwifery, neonatal nursing, family nursing and adult-gerontology acute care.
Registered nurses, nursing practitioners and ARPNs can all pursue a DNP degree. If you wish to obtain quality knowledge and widen your view of healthcare policy, getting a DNP may be right for you.
- Impacting individual health through health system reforms
It’s critical as a society to have discussions on policy reforms to provide affordable and high-quality healthcare. These discussions encompass many areas, from improving affordable care to developing systems that effectively address healthcare providers’ coverage options.
A nurse’s role in the healthcare industry makes them better suited to understand, recognize and respond more effectively to barriers that prevent people from being as healthy as possible. In truth, these health disparities are often interconnected; thus, insights from a nurse regarding these factors would be invaluable in developing a quality healthcare policy.
- Focusing on population health through patient advocacy
Spending a lot of time with patients gives nurses comprehensive insights into a patient’s needs. Not only do they better understand patients, but nurses also make it their responsibility to identify the requirements and needs of family members. As a result, nurses can directly serve as a voice for patients during policy formulation.
Nurses can bring their patient advocacy competency to the boardroom when it’s time to reform policies. They can explain in detail how these policies directly influence patient outcomes. One way nurses are impacting policies is by promoting shared governance models in healthcare institutions. With this, nurses become empowered to decide on certain practices while improving their proximity to patients. This is just one way nurses can help improve the population’s health through enacting quality policies.
- Making a case for staff health
Nurses are not only limited to patient advocacy; they can also advocate for staff welfare. However, this responsibility is mainly reserved for nursing leaders. By utilizing leadership skills, nurses in various positions can offer opinions to help teams function better and improve medical care.
Policies addressing staff health should include safe staffing and different strategies to improve the personal wellness of nurses and other medical professionals. The “Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation” campaign has been one such strategy. This campaign addresses staff health in five significant areas: physical activity, rest, quality of life, nutrition and safety.
- Sharing knowledge and inspiring change
Aside from being a direct part of the policy formulation process, nurses can also indirectly influence policies and become changemakers by mentoring and sharing relevant knowledge with aspiring professionals. By doing so, active nurses ensure the next crop of professionals have the appropriate skill, knowledge and confidence to reform healthcare policies.
In the past, nurses have achieved this by engaging with aspiring professionals in secondary and tertiary institutions. This lets active nurses shed light on their influence on healthcare policies. Mentoring less-experienced professionals on how to impact policymaking, campaign for reforms and advocate on behalf of patients and staff have also been found to be effective.