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The Role of the RN/APRN in Policy Making

According to Milstead & Short, 2019, nurses are uniquely qualified to participate in the policy making process, particularly in relation to health care related policies, based on their education and experience.  The American Nurses Association (ANA) echoes these statements as well and even references the nurse duty to advocate for patient care which can certainly be done via the support of patient centric legislation (American Nurses Association, 2015).  When considering the challenges in the current healthcare environment, especially those related to COIVD-19, mental health and the deficient number of healthcare services available to most Americans, it makes sense to ask those on the frontlines of patient care to provide their voices to support the changes needed to improve the system and care for the most vulnerable in society. 

Registered Nurses can participate in policy making as it relates to their particular workplaces by becoming involved in nursing committees, clinical practice councils and the local chapter of their State nursing association (Ellenbecker et al., 2017). Nurse leaders can also draw on their experience to support and educate others outside of the healthcare environment (Clarke et al., 2013). A good example of this is nurses who speak to local city governments about the issues they see in their particular area expertise.  In fact, many nursing schools have recognized the importance of having nurses involved in policy making which is the reason why almost all national programs have a health policy component within their program.  A challenge that could arise, is the nurse’s inability to participate due to long work hours or personal commitments outside of work.  A way to address this challenge could be accomplished by having nurses team up and take turns attending meetings.  Also nurses who attend a meeting can gather information from their colleagues and by sharing their collective findings, all nurses will have an opportunity to voice their opinions.

Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRN) can influence policy by using their expert assessment and communication skills to advocate for certain populations, serve as a clinical leader at their place of employment and actively participate in their state’s professional nursing organizations specific to their own nursing specialty.  Other ways that APRNs can get involved in health policy is via the analysis of existing health policies, interpretation of research and active participation in regulatory processes. APRNs can also advocate for ethical policies, develop and evaluate policies and use their expertise to educate others (Ellenbecker et al., 2017).

Challenges that can arise for APRNs is the inability to convince others of the importance of participation in policy making activities.  People need to understand the connection between professional responsibility, nursing practice standards, high quality patient care and the healthcare policies that promote all three. Effective nurse leaders are those that can find ways to appeal to public citizens and legislators in order to gain support for policies that address healthcare disparities while also supporting and promoting changes to improve existing policies.

To become a better advocate of healthcare policy, nurses should focus on educating other nurses and the public about important healthcare issues.  One way this can be accomplished is by publishing journal articles and literature reviews for both local and national audiences. Another great way to advocate is by getting involved with professional nurse associations. This writer joined a regional Nurse Practitioner group and regularly received updates on pending legislation that needs to be supported. Nurse advocacy does not have to be complicated. Simple acts such as letter writing campaigns or simply signing a petition in support of an important issue can be very meaningful actions to influence policy making decisions.

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