How Nurses Can Shape Health Policy – and Why It’s More Important Than Ever

Many nurses are overworked and burnt out, but changes in health policy may be a step toward making things better. One expert explains how.

There are more nurses than any other profession in the health care world, and as the frontlines of patient care, their opinions and expertise should be at the forefront of health policy creation. However, their viewpoints are often missing from policymaking, both at the institutional and governmental level.

“It’s a very small minority group of nurses who are actually involved… all hospitals have to have a chief nursing officer – they can be called various [titles]. They have some input, but the staff-level nurse right in the frontlines that we now witness with COVID-19, their voices are often not heard,” said Robert L. Anders, PhD, DNP, faculty member at Walden University College of Nursing, said in an interview with Oncology Nursing News.

This summer, Anders wrote an article, “Engaging nurses in health policy in the era of COVID-19,” which was published in Nursing Forum.

Anders acknowledged that nurses already have a full plate – they work long hours, which have become only longer and more stressful during the pandemic, and many also have personal or family obligations outside of their careers, too.

“You can use social media. Now we have a younger group of nurses coming on board, who are more attuned with social media… There are so many different avenues that they can use to make their voices heard,” Anders said.

According to Anders, nurses can use social media to help shape public opinion and get messages out about nursing issues that are important to them, such as staffing regulations or personal protective equipment (PPE) usage.

Anders also encouraged nurses to participate in local and hospital- or clinic-level governance. He said that many – though not all – agencies will give nurses the capability to do that.

“The employer should really give you time to do that. Not give you 5 patients and then say, ‘You’ve got to go to this meeting and squeeze it in between [tasks] and take your lunch break to do this,’” Anders said, noting that nurses often are expected to be “this herculean performer with no time, no relief, no compensation.”

As nurses continue to familiarize themselves with policymaking, they can move up to the state or national level, by calling or writing to their representatives, Anders said. The more people who are behind nurses in their quest, the better.

“Of course, you want to get your family and your friends and other nurses involved as well, particularly if it’s a very important issue,” Anders said. “Like for now, I think one of the biggest issues is the lack of adequate PPE, and the demands to work all these hours without relief.”

Nurses who shape policy and feel that their voices are being heard may be less prone to burnout and quitting their jobs. This is not only good for the individual nurses, but also for the institutions as well, as the health care system continues to face issues with high clinician turnover rates.

“I think any time a person has a say in their work environment, and the things they do about it, I think they feel better about their work,” Anders said. “If you voice your concerns and management listens to it, that’s obviously going to help create a better work environment. So, I encourage that.”