Nurses working in the health policy arena have an important role in developing and implementing the framework in which healthcare and public health systems operate.
The World Health Organization defines health policy as "decisions, plans, and actions that are undertaken to achieve specific health care goals within a society. An explicit health policy can achieve several things: it defines a vision for the future which in turn helps to establish targets and points of reference for the short and medium term. It outlines priorities and the expected roles of different groups; and it builds consensus and informs people."
Who Makes Health Policy?
In the United States, health policy decisions are made at both the federal level by Congress and by healthcare agencies. Some of the important health policies set by Congress include Medicare policy, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, HIPAA and federal funding for healthcare research.
In addition, state legislatures make thousands of health policy decisions every year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. These decisions include "improving access to appropriate care, determining who should be immunized, licensing health professionals and facilities, and supporting or rejecting initiatives to keep people healthy."
Supporting and advising the legislative processes are numerous health policy organizations. Nurses can bring a needed perspective to this process and help decision-makers develop and implement policies that truly benefit the public. Nurses can also take on leadership roles and become the decision-makers.
Roles and Jobs for Health Policy Nurses
A health policy nurse's responsibilities can include the following:
- Analyzing and evaluating healthcare policies, laws and regulations.
- Advising policymakers, leaders and the public.
- Administering grants.
- Advocating for change as a lobbyist.
- Developing, proposing and implementing new healthcare policies.
- Preparing health policy briefs.
- Researching public healthcare issues.
Organizations where nurses can fill these roles include the following:
- Advocacy organizations, such as the Public Health Institute or the Trust for America's Health.
- Private, for-profit consulting firms or the Center for Healthcare Economics and Policy.
- Foundations or organizations that do health policy research, such as the Kaiser Family Foundation, Urban Institute Health Policy Center or the RAND Corporation.
- Government agencies, such as the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- Health services research firms or Group Health Research Group
- Legislative offices, at both the state and federal level -- nurses with health policy experience may also choose to run for elective office.
- Nursing and other healthcare provider associations that recommend and advocate for policy.
- Public health agencies.
The following are real-life examples of jobs filled by health policy nurses:
- A regent in the California university system.
- A position in Rwanda with the CDC, working in maternal child health and HIV prevention.
- Chief program integration officer for ambulatory care in a department of public health -- a job that involves ensuring seamless transitions between city health groups, such as primary care, jail care and mental health.
- Nurse consultant/policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- Nurse policy advisor in a state Department of Health Services.
How to Become a Health Policy Nurse
"The kinds of nurses who are best at policy have broad interests," according to a Nurse.com article. "They are big picture people." Often, they "recognize that many of the clinical problems they encounter are the result of broken health systems." They have the desire to make a difference in the world.
The minimum required education to work in health policy is typically a master's degree (MSN). An MSN, such as the online MSN Admin degree offered by the University of Texas at Arlington, gives nurses the necessary grounding to work in health policy:
- Nursing theory and research.
- Communication and leadership skills.
- Caring for populations.
- Global health.
- Healthcare economics.
- Strong writing and critical thinking skills.
Getting started in this new career typically involves completing a health policy residency program, such as the one offered by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Other government offices, as well as advocacy organizations, community groups and similar organizations, also offer residency programs.
As stated in a Minority Nurse article, "Nurses who care about making a difference, who are passionate about health care issues, and who are willing to persevere through the challenges and triumphs of change can fashion a career in health policy that can have a broad impact on the world."
Learn more about the UTA online MSN in Nursing Administration program.
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