More Commentary

Influence through policy: Nurses have a unique role

Sheila A. Burke | 6/2/2016

Why policy matters to me. What YOU can do to help shape policy.


In her presidential call to action for the 2015-17 biennium, Cathy Catrambone, PhD, RN, FAAN, called all members of the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International (STTI) to “Influence to Advance Global Health & Nursing” in four areas: 1) advocacy, 2) policy, 3) lifelong learning, and 4) philanthropy. This second of a six-part series on President Catrambone’s call addresses influence through policy.

To be influential, nurses must see themselves as professionals with the capacity and responsibility to influence current and future healthcare delivery systems. The nursing profession is based on the science of human health and the science of caring. It operates from a framework that values all people in a holistic way and seeks to foster and advance people’s health throughout their lifespans and across all levels of society.
Burke_Sheila_ID_embed_SFWTo achieve these objectives, it’s essential that policies exist that define and integrate appropriate standards for delivery of care and address conditions necessary for that care to occur. Through policy work, nurses can and should influence practice standards and processes to assure quality of care. Nurses who influence policy help shape the care that will be provided today and tomorrow. Policies also impact resource allocation to support delivery of healthcare.
More than ever, nurses are present in every healthcare setting and possess a unique role in formulating policy. The Institute of Medicine’s 2010 report The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, recognized the importance of this role and called for nurses to take leadership in improving the quality of healthcare.
Many of the leading nursing organizations promote active participation by nurses in policy formulation. For example, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing emphasizes the role of nursing in policy and identifies, in its "Essentials" documents, the expected policy involvement that should be addressed in educational programs at the baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral levels of professional nursing, including advanced practice. The National League for Nursing and the American Nurses Association also expect nurses to address policy as part of their professional role.
Collaborative policy work
One example of nurse leaders working together to address health policy issues at a national and global level involved collaboration between nursing leaders from Ireland and Singapore. In 2013, Swee Hia Lim, MN, RN, DSc (hon.), president of the Singapore Nurses Association, met with Liam Doran, MA, RGN, RMHN, leader of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organization, to discuss issues affecting nursing and midwifery, both nationally and globally.
Together, Lim and Doran examined how the work of nurses and midwives impacts quality of care for individuals and families throughout the world. Both professions actively participate in health policy decision-making processes, ultimately benefiting patient outcomes. These two leaders recognized, however, it was necessary to have a strong and effective structure for effective change to occur and that the process also required clear definition and communication of practice issues involved—from direct delivery of nursing and midwifery care to the patient to the more operational, strategic delivery of healthcare and policy development at regional and national levels. By working together to influence policies, these nurse leaders increased contributions of both professions—nurses and midwives—thereby helping bridge disparities between political strategic direction and actual clinical practice.

STTI’s commitment to policy
STTI has long been a force for shaping policy and has worked with nursing and governmental organizations to advance policies that promote world health. The honor society also promotes member participation in policy work across local, regional, and global levels of healthcare. The organization makes its commitment to policy formulation clear on its website: “Since the work of Florence Nightingale, nurses have helped shape public, health and nursing policy. Visionary nurse leaders understood the consequences of the social, political and economic factors on the health and well being of the public. Today nurses continue to make an important contribution to planning and decision-making, and to the development of appropriate and effective public, health and nursing policy on all levels.”
Recently, STTI has taken important steps toward influencing healthcare policies through the newly established Global Advisory Panel on the Future of Nursing (GAPFON). GAPFON is bringing together stakeholders from across the world to design plans and metrics for addressing priority areas for policy, as well as nursing leadership, workforce development, and education.
The work nurses do in influencing policy affects decisions that impact quality of life and universal access to care. Becoming influential in policy work is a process that requires commitment to developing skills and acquiring knowledge about activities that lead to change. It involves making choices.
Why policy matters to me
Over the course of my career in nursing, my path has involved work in clinical settings that include acute care, hospice, home health care, and community-based programs. I’ve also administered direct care and support of thousands of patients and their loved ones. Today, I am responsible for overseeing educational standards and programs for pre-licensure nurses. For me, it’s essential that these individuals attain a level of knowledge and comfort with processes and activities related to healthcare policy and that, prior to graduation, they learn to value and appreciate opportunities to be active influencers of policy.
What YOU can do
As a registered nurse and STTI member, you have education, experience, and perspectives that uniquely equip you to participate in policy formulation. Here are just a few ways you can be involved:
  • Learn how policy is developed. Seek out areas of policy you want to influence.
  • Learn who is participating in policy development and make contact with them. Nursing organizations and organizations such as AARP have multiple user-friendly internet sites that provide information about participating in policymaking activities.
  • Explore resources related to policy formulation.
  • Investigate health policy agendas that local legislators have established for their terms in office.
  • Volunteer to participate in policy meetings or related activities. Prepare a fact sheet, or assist in preparing a report to inform policy decision-makers. Inform stakeholders of activities that offer opportunities to address policymakers.

Sheila A. Burke, DNP, MBA, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, is dean of nursing education at Concorde College.

Read the other installments in the "Answering the call" series:

Influence through advocacy: Raising awareness, advancing change

Influence through policy: Four steps YOU can take

Influence through lifelong learning: I developed leadership skills I didn’t think I’d ever have! 

Influence through philanthropy: What philanthropy looks like

Influence through philanthropy: Giving back to pay it forward

  • leadership
  • call to action
  • Nursing Student
  • Nurse Researcher
  • Nurse Leader
  • Nurse Faculty
  • Nurse Educator
  • Clinician
  • Educator
  • ClinicalC
  • RNL Feature
  • RNL
  • Nursing Student
  • Nursing Faculty
  • Nurse Researchers
  • Nurse Clinician
  • Global - Oceania
  • North America
  • Global - Middle East
  • Global - Africa
  • Global - Europe
  • Global - Asia
  • Global - Latin America
  • Burke_rotator_2Q16_SFW