Nurses’ Place in Healthcare Policy: Advocating for Patients and the Profession

In this week’s blog, Sunshine Joyce Alba Batasin BSN-RN describes her experience of connecting healthcare, nursing, and public policy. Learn more about Sunshine’s recent participation at the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) Student Policy Summit in Washington, D.C. with a national network of individuals advocating for nursing initiatives. 

The depth and breadth of healthcare are continuously explored through the intersections of life, science, and innovation. As people experience a myriad of clinical conditions of varying complexity, it becomes evident that providing specialized and trained support is essential. Positive patient outcomes are influenced by a variety of factors ranging from physical/social environment, work conditions, and lifestyle; however, it is equally as important to emphasize how systems can influence healthcare delivery. It is in this context that healthcare policy plays a role. Healthcare professionals — particularly nurses — have a significant and unique perspective on the way in which policy affects patients and the nursing profession itself.

Last month, I attended the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) Student Policy Summit in Washington, D.C., an annual conference that immerses students in federal policy and nurse advocacy based in Capitol Hill. As the first group of nursing students sponsored by the University of San Francisco School of Nursing and Health Professions (SONHP), I participated alongside four of my peers and SONHP Dean Eileen Fry-Bowers. As a mix of both undergraduate and graduate nursing students, we each came with different backgrounds and experiences with advocacy. The two-day conference allowed myself and other attendees to learn about nurses’ role in different sectors as we became acquainted with the quick pace of the nation’s Capitol. 

Nurses are crucial members of the healthcare team due to their responsibilities involving the monitoring, oversight, and administration of treatment for patients. This requires intensive training, with higher education being required for advanced practice nurses with wider scopes of practice. Notably, the conference had a particular focus on advocating for the nursing profession itself through AACN priorities that included nursing research funding, advanced education, and loan support. At the conference, it was evident that nurses engage in advocacy for both themselves and the patients they serve. This approach towards advocacy was both inspiring and affirming, as it can become easy for healthcare professionals to direct their attention solely on how policy influences patient outcomes. Profession centered advocacy is crucial, as nurses have unique positions within the patient-healthcare team. 

With over 150 attendees from over 80 nursing schools across the country, it was an incredible opportunity connecting with student nurses on all levels, including those obtaining their bachelor’s, master’s, doctorate of nursing practice (DNP), and PhD degrees in nursing. Furthermore, we were able to hear from national nurse leaders including: Chief Nursing Officer of the U.S. Public Health Service Corps, Rear Admiral Aisha K. Mix; Health Policy Fellows from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation including Emerson Ea, Lindsey Harris, and Kumhee Ro; and Director of the National Institute of Nursing Research within the National Institute of Health, Shannon N. Zenk. Each of these distinguished individuals are nurses, all of whom actively use their experience, nursing practice, and advanced education within the sectors of public health, policy, and research. Overall, it was insightful to hear about how each person used their direct patient care — also known as “bedside” — experience to inform their perspective on policies that affect healthcare.

Attendees were able to apply the lessons and insight from conference sessions during another major component of the conference: Capitol Hill Day. Until this point, I was only used to learning and working with nurses from “traditional” clinical settings within hospitals, clinics, and other nursing facilities, making this environment incredibly new. Navigating changing schedules, working our way through Senate office buildings, and doing it all against the backdrop of iconic United States landmarks was a surreal experience. The opportunity to explore these spaces with Dean Fry-Bowers and my peers was incredible. As we ran into other Deans and students throughout the day, it was evident that we were all part of a national network advocating for nursing. Truly, this was a testament to the key role that nurses play in training nurses, providing high-quality care, and ensuring that nurses have a place at the bedside — and in the boardrooms. 

Looking ahead, it is my hope that sharing this experience helps students — particularly my nursing peers — broaden their perspective on what it means to be a nurse. Advocacy takes on many forms, just like nursing. We must each find our own ways to use our experience to advocate for ourselves, our profession, and those we serve.

Learn more about the School of Nursing and Health Professions here.

advocacyAmerican Association of Colleges of Nursing Student Policy SummitCapitol HillDean Eileen Fry-BowersEmerson EaHealth Policy FellowsHealth ProfessionshealthcareKumhee RoLindsey HarrisNational Institute of HealthNational Institute of Nursing Researchnursesnursingpublic policyRear Admiral Aisha K. MixRobert Wood Johnson FoundationSchool of NursingShannon N. Zenk

arwilliamsonraun • April 20, 2023

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