RN-MSN Programs as a Path to Becoming a Health Policy Nurse

“Nurses must see policy as something they can shape, rather than something that happens to them.” – The Future of Nursing: Leading Changing, Advancing Health, Institute of Medicine (2010)

Because nurses are at the bedside of the patients they serve, they best understand the health care needs of patients and communities; therefore, they are a natural choice for leading the way when setting health policy priorities. In fact, nurses are often said to speak for those without a voice.

The International Council of Nurses and the World Health Organization both stress that nurses should be involved in policy development because they are positioned to provide crucial policy information due to their close interaction with both clients and their families.

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Health policy nurses have a deep understanding of how policies can affect patients and the care the patients receive. Their work contributes to health policy formation and implementation at nearly every level. Although all nurses can influence health policy in a number of ways, some nurses actually focus their careers on the process of translating research into the implementation of health policy.

These nursing professionals are responsible for analyzing health and public policies as to encourage a healthier, safer society. Health policy nurses, who are most often educated at the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) level or above, are leaders in:

  • Research
  • Analysis
  • Advocacy
  • Policy development
  • Implementation
  • Evaluation

Health Policy Nurse Jobs: Duties and Responsibilities

Their expertise and knowledge of health policy allow them to:

  • Identify and analyze healthcare laws and public policies
  • Plan and implement new healthcare policies
  • Implement strategies for advocating policy change

Health policy nurses are able to influence change in public policy by:

  • Coordinating care within a healthcare system
  • Expanding preventive care
  • Helping a healthcare system adapt to an aging population
  • Helping a healthcare system adapt to changes in healthcare
  • Improving healthcare efficiency
  • Improving patient safety
  • Improving the quality of care
  • Increasing access to care
  • Promoting wellness
  • Reducing costs
  • Reducing medical errors

Health policy nurses contribute to broad-based reforms to healthcare planning, policy, and management and therefore play a pivotal role in improving the quality and safety of care. As direct caregivers, nurses possess a unique perspective on patient care; therefore, health policy nurses are able to recognize where improvements are needed through the coordination of care and the promotion of prevention, among others.

Becoming a Health Policy Nurse: RN to MSN Programs in Public Policy Nursing

Experienced nurses are typically the best candidates for becoming health policy nurses, as they possess the clinical insight necessary to understand how public policy affects patients and the way healthcare is delivered to them. There are a wide variety of MSN programs that are aimed at health policy/public policy; therefore, MSN programs are often considered the minimum educational requirement for this nursing profession.

RN to MSN in Health Policy Program Features

RNs who possess a pre-licensure nursing diploma or Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) must first earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) before they can pursue an MSN in Health Policy.

With this in mind, there are specific MSN programs, called RN to MSN programs, which are aimed at RNs who must complete both their BSN and MSN. These unique programs, which are designed specifically for licensed RNs, allow for the transfer of a number of undergraduate credits, thereby allowing students to complete both their undergraduate and graduate degree in less time than it would take to complete both a traditional BSN and MSN program.

RN to MSN programs often take just 2 to 3 years to complete, and many are offered online, thereby accommodating the busy schedule of today’s working RN. In addition to campus-based programs, a large number of online institutions now offer accredited RN to MSN programs. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing reports that there are now more than 166 RN to MSN programs in the U.S.

To be eligible to enter an RN to MSN program, candidates must possess a current and unencumbered RN license. Transferred credits must meet specific GPA requirements, and overall GPA requirements are often part of the eligibility process. Many programs also require candidates to possess at least one year of experience.

Curriculum and Residency Requirements

MSN programs in health policy are focused on the following areas of study:

  • Communications
  • Policy leadership
  • Foundations of healthcare policy
  • Principles of healthcare systems
  • Economics and policy
  • Global health
  • Ethical dilemmas and nursing
  • Health care economics and policy
  • Health economics
  • Health policy research
  • Theories of the policy process
  • Policy research utilization

Courses in an RN to MSN in Health Policy program prepare students to serve in a variety of roles through which they are able to direct the path of healthcare policies, thereby benefiting both patients and the community.

One of the critical parts of an RN to MSN in Health Policy is a health policy residency, which is typically completed upon the culmination of all MSN coursework. A health policy residency allows students to apply their recently acquired skills in a real-world setting, such as a government office, advocacy organization, or community group.

MSN Health Policy Nurse Career Opportunities

The expertise and knowledge of health policy nurses are valuable in a wide variety of settings, such as:

  • Research firms
  • Legislative and regulatory offices
  • Health maintenance organizations and other healthcare organizations
  • Advocacy organizations
  • Policy-related research organizations
  • Community organizations
  • Professional associations

For example, they can be found working in:

  • Executive branches of state, local, and federal governments, such as the Office of Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  • Regulatory offices of state and federal government, such as the Centers for Disease Control or the Food and Drug Administration
  • State and federal legislative offices, such as the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives
  • Advocacy organizations, such as AARP, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Cancer Society
  • Health professional societies, such as the American Nurses Association, the American College of Nurse Practitioners, the Oncology Nursing Society, and the American College of Nurse Midwives

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