Nurses interested in public policy and public health can choose to become a health policy nurse. Increasingly, policy decisions and matters affecting the economy and lifestyles impact health. According to the nursing school at the University of California, San Francisco, nurses may increasingly realize that health problems they see in hospitals and clinics have roots in bigger policy issues. Diabetes is affecting more patients and younger patients every day, and it has a clear association with high-calorie, low-nutrition junk foods constantly being marketed to children and young parents. Campaigns for smoke-free environments in schools and public areas are rooted in health policy advocacy. Skills in advocacy, research, policy development, evaluation and implementation are all needed in order to determine which health policies nurses can and should help to develop and support.
At the minimum level, health policy nurses should have a nursing degree with a minor in nursing health policy. Most nurses in this field have a master’s degree. Options for post-baccalaureate education include a Master of Science in Nursing with a health policy emphasis, a post-Master’s degree, and a Ph.D. in nursing health policy. You should have a nursing degree or diploma, and be working as a Registered Nurse (RN) for at least two or three years before attempting to enter a health policy nursing graduate program.
Employment and Experience Pathways
Some nurses who work in health policy are also attorneys, or have years of experience working in legislative offices. They are qualified to assess legal and health matters and write and speak about policies. Another area of specialty is research. Public health experience is important for nurses with a research emphasis. A third form of related specialty is the nurse-educator. Depending on the type of nursing practice you work in before you obtain additional education, your work experience can influence the type of policy job you will be able to get after completing your education. One such pathway includes a nurse who worked in a bilingual community health clinic later went to work as a policy expert for a large healthcare nonprofit advocacy organization.
Working to change health policy or health impacts in the broader community opens up job opportunities in many different sectors. Large insurance and pharmaceutical companies may employ nurses with health policy education and backgrounds. Government organizations, including local, and regional public health agencies, employ nurses in this field. Large hospitals and clinics also employ nurse policy experts, as do advocacy organizations devoted to health, environmental and ethnicity-related issues. You will also find independent research organizations which employ nurses with policy expertise.
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Health policy nursing is a growing career field, but it isn’t typically the type of job a nurse can obtain right out of nursing school. At a minimum, you will need to complete your nursing degree, pass the NCLEX-RN exam, and work for at least two to three years as an RN before investigating public health research, advocacy or educational positions. In this position, you could influence legislation, educate the public, and increase access to health care. If you become a health policy nurse, you can have an opportunity to influence other people’s health on a much broader scale than one patient at a time.