Health policy affects every aspect of care delivery. It has a particularly poignant impact on both the employees in the healthcare field and the patients who need and receive care. Understanding health policy — the processes, motivations and potential new legislature coming down the pike — benefits nursing professionals and their patients in more ways than one.

The online Registered Nurse (RN) to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program from University of Maine at Fort Kent helps graduates dive into the health policies that inform today’s nursing practice. Graduates of the program will be equipped to inform patients of treatment options, advocate for certain groups, impact state and federal change and grow into leadership positions.

Why Should Nurses Become More Involved in Health Policy?

No matter how you look at it, the healthcare system is complex, which makes optimizing care delivery challenging. However, nurses who understand health policy have an opportunity to close those care gaps and improve the system for patients and healthcare professionals alike. Specifically, nurses who stay up to date on the latest health policies can achieve the following:

Help patients make informed decisions. Patients are often overwhelmed by the choices necessary to navigate the healthcare system, which may be further complicated by “decision fatigue.” According to an October 2021 survey by the American Psychological Association, the stress from the pandemic has made it difficult for 32% of adults to make everyday decisions, like what to wear or eat. Adults who struggle with activities of daily living are likely to become frustrated and unable to make informed care decisions without additional support and guidance. Nurses can guide patients through these tough decisions.

Advocate for disadvantaged populations. Disadvantaged populations generally have limited access to care, resulting in worse health outcomes. While the healthcare services they need may be available in their community, individuals in vulnerable groups may not be aware of these opportunities or have the necessary transportation to reach them. Nurses can advise patients of these services and direct them to other local resources. In addition, they may volunteer or seek employment with groups that expand care access to underserved populations, such as people of color and impoverished children.

Become active on the local and national stage. Because nurses are frequently the most direct line of contact for patients throughout the care cycle, they get to know the most pressing issues affecting various groups. Nurses can recommend guidelines, policies and new preventive care programs to improve equitable access to care. They can suggest these changes within their facilities and make their voices heard within local, state and national institutions. By joining professional associations or boards, attending community meetings and pursuing guest speakerships, nurses can draw attention to critical issues.

Step into leadership roles. The Institute of Medicine’s 2010 Future of Nursing report called on nurses to advance their educations to meet the complex health needs of an older population and develop the skills to step into leadership roles. Now called the National Academy of Medicine, the organization has a recent 2020-2030 report that expounded on those suggestions by encouraging nurses to take the lead on health equity initiatives. Nurses in leadership can have tremendous influence over modernizing health policy and care delivery, improving health equity and workplace culture, and mentoring and developing the next generation of nurse leaders.

Where Can Nurses Learn More About Health Policy?

The density of healthcare legislation makes it tricky for nursing professionals to feel empowered to step into this arena. However, the online RN to BSN program at the University of Maine Fort Kent emphasizes healthcare policy knowledge for its graduates and includes a Health Care Policy course and a Health Care Ethics & the Law course. The curriculum offers a contemporary overview of policies affecting care delivery and nursing practice, along with the ethical, social, political, cultural and financial mechanisms at play.

Health policy is constantly evolving, but nurses who develop a fundamental understanding of the ins and outs of policy development and its many applications can foster more meaningful changes for their patients and communities.

Learn more about the University of Maine at Fort Kent’s online RN to BSN program.