Nurses are the unsung heroes of the healthcare sector, often lauded for their hands-on patient care but less frequently recognized for their potential influence in healthcare reform. At the crossroads of patient interaction and medical administration, their unique vantage point places them in an ideal position to advocate for improvements.
Whether you are a student in an online Registered Nurse (RN) to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program or you have already earned your BSN, today’s shifting landscape — marked by challenges in care access, health disparities and changing healthcare needs — beckons nurses to step forward as advocates and change agents.
Becoming Advocates in Healthcare Policy and Delivery System Reform
With firsthand insight into patient needs, nurses are primed to identify gaps in the healthcare system. Their involvement in policy reform can manifest in various ways.
Policy Input: Serving on Boards, Committees and Task Forces
With their on-the-ground experiences and direct patient interaction, nurses can offer invaluable insights into how healthcare policies affect patient care. By serving on boards, committees and task forces, they can share these insights to shape more patient-centered policies:
- Boards and committees: Health boards and committees, whether at the local hospital level or on a larger scale, frequently shape patient care standards, operational policies and budgets. A nurse on such a board brings a patient-focused lens that can highlight areas where policy might inadvertently compromise care or patient comfort.
- Task forces: Task forces, often set up to address specific issues or challenges, benefit immensely from nurses’ practical knowledge. For instance, a task force aimed at reducing hospital-acquired infections would benefit from a nurse’s perspective on patient hygiene practices, visitor policies or equipment sterilization.
- Shaping legislation: Beyond internal hospital policies, nurses on these platforms can influence broader health-related legislation. Their firsthand experience can guide lawmaking bodies in understanding the practical implications of their decisions on the healthcare community.
Research and Data: The Importance of Ground Experience
Research is pivotal in highlighting problems and identifying effective solutions. Nurses, with their day-to-day interactions, can recognize areas in need of investigation and contribute data to validate findings:
- Identifying research gaps: While dealing with patients and observing healthcare processes, nurses can pinpoint where research is lacking. These might be areas such as patient pain management, the efficiency of care routines or the effectiveness of patient education strategies.
- Data collection: As primary caregivers, nurses can also facilitate the collection of data for studies, ensuring the information is accurate and representative of the patient’s experience.
- Translating research to practice: Nurses can also play a pivotal role in implementing research findings in healthcare settings, ensuring that theoretical solutions are practically applicable and beneficial.
Collaborative Efforts: The Power of Teamwork
Healthcare is a multifaceted industry involving diverse professionals ranging from doctors to administrators. Collaborative efforts among these professionals are vital to ensure reforms are holistic and cater to all dimensions of healthcare.
- Interdisciplinary dialogues: Nurses can initiate or partake in conversations with professionals from other disciplines. By understanding a doctor’s challenges or an administrator’s logistical hurdles, nurses can advocate for comprehensive and feasible reforms.
- Unified advocacy: By joining forces with other healthcare professionals, nurses can amplify their advocacy efforts. For example, a collaborative campaign by nurses and doctors for improved hospital facilities or policies will likely hold more weight than a standalone effort.
- Learning and sharing: Collaborative forums allow nurses to learn about advancements in other medical fields. Simultaneously, they can share insights so healthcare reforms benefit from a broad spectrum of knowledge and experience.
Issues Addressed by Nurse Advocates
Myriad issues benefit from the active advocacy of nurses, including:
- Access to care, especially for underserved populations
- Quality and safety of healthcare services
- Addressing health disparities arising from socioeconomic factors
- Promotion of preventative care to reduce future healthcare costs
Leadership in Advocacy
Nursing leaders play a pivotal role in bolstering advocacy. By leveraging their positions, they can:
- Educate and empower. Mentorships and training sessions can be established to enlighten fellow nurses about healthcare challenges and equip them with the tools to become advocates.
- Promote institutional change. Nurse leaders can influence organizational policies, pushing for reform-minded approaches in their own healthcare establishments.
Organizations and Movements: Taking Collective Action
Nurses seeking to maximize their impact can align with organizations dedicated to healthcare reform. The American Academy of Nursing focuses on healthcare reform through its policy and advocacy arms. Similarly, the American Nurses Association (ANA) offers resources and platforms for nurses to engage in federal advocacy. These organizations, among others, provide a platform for nurses to consolidate their efforts and influence change on a grander scale.
St. Thomas University’s Contribution
In recognizing the crucial role nurses can play in healthcare reform, St. Thomas University’s online RN to BSN program has meticulously integrated healthcare challenges into its curriculum.
Particularly noteworthy is the Health Care System Issue course. This course introduces nurses to the pressing problems faced by the healthcare sector. With an emphasis on advocacy, the course expects its students to “demonstrate the ability to advocate for transformation in the health care delivery system.” This addresses concerns ranging from local to global, ensuring its graduates are well-equipped to lead transformative initiatives — wherever their careers might take them.
The Future Is Now
The future of healthcare reform, to a significant extent, lies in the hands of nurses. Their professional expertise and proximity to the realities of healthcare make them formidable advocates for change. As educational institutions like St. Thomas University take proactive steps to mold nurses to be aware and active reformists, there is ample hope that impending challenges in the healthcare sector will be met with resilience, intelligence and an unwavering commitment to patient welfare.
Learn more about STU’s online RN to BSN program.