Policy-Making Education for Nurses

With all eyes on healthcare reform, the Affordable Care Act and the future of healthcare, nurses interested in making a difference on Capitol Hill might think about considering an advanced degree.

Specifically, one focused on policy making.

Nurses armed with education, training and real experience are steadily rising up as they climb into more leadership roles in healthcare.

For example, the American Journal of Nursing (AJN) takes very seriously the need for nurses to pursue more leadership positions and sound their voices about what needs to happen with healthcare reform.

Academic institutions are also taking notice by creating programs designed to help prepare nurses for their evolving responsibilities and willingness to be advocates for better healthcare delivery models, largely precipitated by the Institute of Medicine.


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Policy-Making Track

Nurses interested in leading the charge for better healthcare delivery could also seek involvement on advisory committees and commissions, a suggestion made in the the landmark the Institute of Medicine (IOM) report, “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health.”


But going from scrubs and bedside patient care to suits and ties fit for boardrooms and congressional hearings, well, it may seem daunting – for anyone.

However, with the right education, it can make things a little easier, says Carole Eldridge, DNP, RN, CNE, NEA-BC, Director of Graduate Programs, at Chamberlain College of Nursing, which provides online graduate nursing programs.

Nurses who launch into their graduate degrees have more to gain than just a few extra credentials that follow their name.

Heading back to school for a master’s degree in nursing (MSN), for example, helps many nurses gain the confidence, knowledge and, depending on which track they take, the skill to excel as leaders and future policy makers, says Eldridge.

With its new Healthcare Policy Specialty Track at Chamberlain to launch in September, Eldridge says the MSN program is breeding a new kind of nurse – the kind that influence state representatives and their legislative decision making power.

To date, there are seven nurses in congress, and Eldridge says legislators are open to what these nurses have to say.

Specific Steps Taken

How does this policy focused program specifically help nurses learn about becoming better lawmakers?

“Our courses are designed to address that. They look at what some nurse leaders do in healthcare policy, we look at research, how to be an advocate and political activist,” Eldridge explained.

“The courses focus on specific steps, how to take steps to improve patient outcomes through policy making and to actually create legislation or regulatory changes.”


According to Eldridge, nurses spend 100 hours in their health reform practicum, which gives them necessary field experience to tackle intense healthcare issues.

And in some cases, nurses have made significant impact in their communities.

Referring to similar programs at other schools, Eldridge mentioned some projects that stood out.

For example, at one school, work from nurses eventually led to their giving testimony in a state supreme court, says Eldridge.

In another case, nurses polled a community to gauge awareness of state involvement in a children’s initiative.

“They [nurses] were able to analyze the data and present findings to state representatives who were working on the policy,” Eldridge says.

These are the types of projects you might expect to see at Chamberlain.

Because faculty at Chamberlain understand the inner workings of policymaking, through their own involvement in it, they are better suited to teach nursing students how it’s done.

“One faculty member, Dr. Lois Hines, is a state convention delegate and was involved on a mental health platform in the state of Idaho,” says Eldridge.

Opening Doors

What is the biggest benefit to nurses who pursue higher education? Better pay might be an obvious choice. But for others, it leads to career advancement. Yet, for others, as Eldridge stated it so simply, “It just opens doors,” she said.


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“[With an advanced degree] If they’re seeking a job as a congressional or legislative worker, or even in teaching, academia has positions for these graduates, or industries like pharmaceuticals,” says Eldridge.

“I’ve seen people who didn’t have a leadership bone in their body, but they became leaders through the education process, by getting the confidence from their learning and credentials.”

So you might be wondering, “What is the biggest hurdle when trying to convince nurses to pursue more education?” Certainly, limitations on their time, and sometimes on confidence.

“What stops people from earning advanced degrees? They don’t think they can do it, or they’ve just squeaked by in their nursing program. But the graduate program in nursing is very different from your undergraduate or pre-licensure nursing program,” says Eldridge.

But one thing is for sure. Regardless of your title, nurses are leaders, a sentiment shared by many nurses at all levels.

“I think we need to define leadership a little differently,” says Eldridge. “Leadership happens at the bedside, many don’t realize they already are leaders. If they care, that is the biggest criteria for becoming a leader.”

Elise Oberliesen is a contrbutor to ADVANCE.

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