Doctor Nurse Practitioners Influencing Health Care Policy

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RNs who have earned a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree can make a difference in healthcare policy.

The medical industry relies on healthcare policy to improve patient care and further healthy outcomes. Nurses are in a unique position to not only provide patient care but to also influence that care’s policy.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) has stressed the importance of nurses learning about and engaging in health care policy. “Health care policy — whether it is created through governmental actions, institutional decision-making or organizational standards — creates a framework that can facilitate or impede the delivery of health care services or the ability of the provider to engage in practice to address health care needs,” the AACN says. “Thus, engagement in the process of policy development is central to creating a health care system that meets the needs of its constituents.”

RNs who have earned a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree have an opportunity to make a difference in healthcare policy. The nursing curriculum offered in Duquesne University’s online DNP program positions nurses as drivers of innovation. Graduates can use the skills and knowledge they acquire to transform policy in the healthcare field.

How DNP Programs Prepare Nurses for Careers in Health Policy

Nurses engaged in healthcare policy development can contribute to the creation of a healthcare system that benefits all constituents, according to Nurses who hold a DNP degree often have the most success at influencing healthcare policy because of the skills learned as part of their curriculum.

“While masters-level APRN programs prepare students to function as effective clinical practitioners, most do not provide them with the skills and knowledge required to develop health policy or influence the political process,” writes the website. “Instead, it is the DNP that has become the primary source of education for nurses as it relates to healthcare policy.”

The curriculum found in an accredited DNP program, writes the AACN, prepares the graduate to:

  • Critically analyze healthcare policy and related issues from the perspective of patients, nurses, and other stakeholders in policy and public forums
  • Demonstrate leadership in the creation of institutional, local, state, federal or international healthcare policy
  • Influence policy makers through active participation on boards or task forces at any level
  • Educate others regarding nursing and patient care outcomes
  • Advocate for nursing within healthcare communities
  • Develop, evaluate and provide leadership for a policy that shapes healthcare regulation, financing, and delivery
  • Lobby for equity, social justice, and ethical policies in all healthcare arenas

Students in a DNP program gain insight into the impact of healthcare policy on all levels and its influence on the healthcare system.

“DNP graduates possess the tools to make changes in our society,” writes Marlene H. Mullin in DNP Involvement in Healthcare Policy and Advocacy. While DNP graduates gain both knowledge and education through the program, they also earn “practice experience, leadership skills, and knowledge regarding research and evidence-based practice, which allows them to be powerful advocates for healthcare policies.”

Further ways DNP students have advanced their healthcare policy experience include incorporating the study of that policy into their scholarly project. Students may also complete a policy fellowship after completion of a DNP program. During the fellowship, DNP nurses have the chance to interact with legislators on healthcare issues and attend hearings and conferences.

DNP programs provide students with exposure to the political process and show them how that knowledge can be used in relation to health policy, writes RNs with a DNP can then seek out ways to apply their knowledge toward valid contributions to healthcare policy.

Avenues for DNP Involvement in Healthcare Policy and Advocacy

Upon completion of the program, there are several ways DNP-prepared nurses can become involved in healthcare advocacy. From joining a professional organization to influencing research, these are the ways DNP program graduates can use their experience to influence healthcare policy.

  • Join a professional nursing organization: Participation in a specialty nursing organization is critical for DNP graduates, according to Mullin. These types of organizations provide nurses with a forum when healthcare issues are being discussed and proposed. They also provide frequent updates on healthcare legislation via member newsletters or websites.
  • Lobby for change in the workplace: DNP graduates can use their leadership skills to influence and facilitate change in the workplace. They can advocate for improved procedures that affect patient care or serve as catalysts to implement new policies based on research and evidence-based practice.
  • Create effective patient education material: The education and clinical experience of DNP graduates allow them to be highly qualified disseminators of patient education material. Working as an advocate for patients, DNP graduates can develop and provide evidence-based education material that is both culturally relevant and sensitive.
  • Participate in influential research: DNP graduates can apply research-based knowledge to participate in research studies that influence health, organizational and social policies regarding patient care and outcomes.
  • Become involved in politics: The leadership skills obtained by DNP graduates make them “excellent candidates for public offices,” writes Mullin. A position in public office allows DNP graduates to gain visibility so they can educate politicians and the public regarding the role of nursing. 

Avenues for DNPs to Influence Healthcare Policy

As DNPs become more comfortable with their role in healthcare policy, three key areas where they tend to find the most success are:

  • Coalition Building: Defined as an “effective approach to obtaining legislative and regulatory approval for an organization’s policy agenda,” coalition-building occurs when nursing organizations ally with each other or with other healthcare groups, writes Mullin. RNs who have earned a DNP can serve as coalition leaders or organizers, often helping the groups to stay on target.
  • Policy Intervention: The knowledge and skills RNs gain in a DNP program makes them “prepared, informed and empowered to support a healthcare policy that aims for safe, effective, patient-centered, timely, efficient and equitable care,” Mullin notes. They can provide expert testimony, serve as experts on the policy’s content and lobby legislators for support of the intervention.
  • Legislation Evaluation: Nurses with DNP degrees can assess the potential for legislation’s success or failure by formally evaluating the policy. Questions they might ask include: What political obstacles lie ahead for implementation? How will outcomes be measured? Is the plan sustainable?

DNP graduates who use their education and knowledge in these areas have the greatest ability to become influential healthcare policymakers.

About Duquesne University’s Online Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree Program

Earning an online DNP degree from Duquesne University can prepare students for a seat at the table when policy issues are being discussed. Course include Healthcare Policy and Finance, and Social Justice and Vulnerable Populations. Coursework for DU’s online DNP program is designed to enhance evidence-based nursing practice and position graduates for leadership roles.


American Association of Colleges of Nursing, The Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Nursing Practice (2006)
Doctor of Nursing Practice DNP, The Unique Contribution DNP-Prepared Nurses Bring to Healthcare Policy, DNP Involvement in Healthcare Policy and Advocacy