(ARA) – Health care is experiencing dramatic changes as provisions outlined in the Affordable Care Act go into effect. As the largest professional group within the health care workforce, nurses are uniquely positioned to facilitate the successful translation of critical health care policy into practice. Nurse leaders with the expertise to help shape this process - from developing and implementing new programs to monitoring and evaluating their success - are becoming increasingly valuable.

In a recent Gallup study conducted for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 1,500 opinion leaders - from the public and private sector, academia and trade organizations - think nurses should have more influence in health care policy issues, including: reducing medical errors (90 percent), increasing quality of care (89 percent), promoting wellness and expanding preventative care (86 percent) and improving health care efficiency and reducing costs (84 percent).

Recognizing the importance of this emerging role, some nursing schools offer educational programs that help current nurses develop expertise in health care policy, preparing them for leadership positions that require an understanding of the economic, political and social forces that influence patient care. Chamberlain College of Nursing, for example, offers a Master of Science in Nursing Health care Policy specialty track designed to prepare nurses for expanding roles in health care policy and improve their opportunities for professional advancement.

“Nurses offer unique insight into the evaluation of health care policy because they serve on the frontlines of patient care, with significant patient interaction,” says Dr. Carole Eldridge, director of graduate programs at Chamberlain College of Nursing. “Advanced education in health care policy can help nurses translate this valuable perspective into professional growth. Chamberlain’s health care policy curriculum promotes the skills necessary for nurses to become advocates for change, preparing them for roles in research, design and implementation of policies and evaluation of health care policy outcomes.”

Industry leaders cite this educational path as crucial to successful health care reform. In its 2010 call-to-action report, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, the Institute of Medicine emphasizes that nurses need a voice in policymaking. By achieving higher and more specialized levels of education, nurses can help transform the profession and reform the delivery of patient care.

Master’s-level nursing graduates who specialize in health care policy are better prepared for career paths in a range of professional environments, including government, health departments, nongovernmental organizations, education foundations, academic institutions and research and consulting firms, among others.

Nurses cannot afford to remain in the background in the policy arena. They have the potential to mobilize their network, advocate for change, shape policy discussions and stimulate positive action. Health care policy nurses can serve as the voice of the profession, working together to benefit patients, the nursing community and the world.

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