Registered Nurses As Advocates And Policymakers For Older Adults

View all blog posts under Articles | View all blog posts under Bachelor of Science in Nursing

In the coming decades, the American population age 65 and older is expected to grow at an unprecedented rate, increasing the need for quality healthcare providers who can help treat chronic and age-related illnesses and advocate for aging-friendly policies for older adults.

Nurse helping older patient with walker

Experts say there’s never been a greater need for registered nurses (RNs) to take the reins to help aging patients. As frontline clinicians, RNs who have Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degrees are in a position to advocate for older adults with policies that can positively impact healthcare’s future.

Research shows higher levels of nurse education leads to better patient outcomes. Some of the largest healthcare research and advocacy organizations, including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Institute of Medicine, say BSN-educated nurses are better equipped to assist the aging population when compared to their counterparts with associate degrees.

“Clinicians with Bachelor of Science in Nursing degrees are well prepared to meet the demands placed on today’s nurse,” according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). “BSN nurses are prized for their skills in critical thinking, leadership, case management and health promotion, and for their ability to practice across a variety of inpatient and outpatient settings.”

At Duquesne University, the RN to BSN curriculum includes the clinical aspects of nursing and the complex issues that surround aging and healthcare. The RN to BSN online program promotes critical thinking skills to initiate positive changes.

RNs Working as Advocates

Patient advocacy in nursing dates back to the days of Florence Nightingale and has become a cornerstone of the profession. Advocacy is so ingrained in nursing that the American Nurses Association (ANA) includes the concept as part of its code of ethics. The organization’s bill of rights also says nurses have the right to openly advocate for themselves and their patients without fear of retribution.

Indeed, a study in the Journal of Medical Ethics and History of Medicine described nurses as patient representatives who defend, support and protect patient rights.

The research, titled “Patient Advocacy from the Clinical Nurses’ Viewpoint: A Qualitative Study,” found that patient advocacy has two components: empathy with the patient and protecting the patient. One nurse who participated in the study said part of advocacy is prioritizing the patient’s health, even in cases that may involve a colleague’s error.

“My colleague’s feelings are my second priority. My patient’s health is the most important matter for me in my working environment,” the nurse said.

When working as advocates with older patients, RNs who have BSNs preserve human dignity and autonomy by being sensitive to individual needs. When working as advocates for older patients, they put their advocacy skills to use in policy changes.

An RN’s Role in Policy

RNs play a significant role in policymaking on both the micro and macro levels. Nurses don’t need to be public policy experts to advance change. They simply need to draw on their own experiences. These policy changes can be as simple as innovating new ways to help individual patients to larger goals such as improving community access to care.

Policy and legislation requirements for older patients are far different than those for younger patients. Advanced and end-of-life care, health equity and care options are among the many issues facing older patients.

Kaitlin Olson, a critical care nurse at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, CT, states that policies should exist that address necessary standards of care. Through policy work, nurses can shape healthcare standards and delivery.

Olson, in response to a national appeal for nurses to work as policy influencers, said nurses have the experience, education and viewpoints that allow them to fully participate in policy changes. As part of the Sigma Theta Tau International (STTI) nursing honors society’s appeal, Olson mapped out a four-step process for action:

  1. Identify a problem.
  2. Research the problem and determine an evidence-based solution. The framework for the solution should include the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s (IHIs) Triple Aim for optimizing health systems, which are improving patient experience of care, improving population health and reducing healthcare costs.
  3. Join or form a support network by becoming involved in public policy groups and building relationships.
  4. Work to your fullest potential, but expect missteps and barriers along the way.

“There is huge potential and demand for nurses to become politically active and work as public health advocates,” Olson said.

Overcoming Barriers to Advocacy and Policy Changes for Older Adults

As the United States sees growth in the older population, the country is also becoming more racially, ethnically and socially diverse. The challenge for healthcare providers will be to connect with the diverse population and find ways to help.

A study by the Florida Center for Nursing found RNs face several barriers to implementing positive changes, including a lack of understanding of healthcare policy and the profession’s varying educational levels.

For many RNs, positive professional changes come after earning a BSN. Studies show a link between BSN-educated nurses and better patient outcomes, including decreased patient mortality and hospital re-admissions and a reduction in hospital-acquired medical conditions.

BSN-educated nurses learn about leadership, critical thinking, advocacy and the public policy process so they can better help their patients. At Duquesne University, the RN to BSN curriculum is based on the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) Synergy Model for Patient Care, which links patient outcomes with nurse competencies.

About Duquesne University’s Online Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN-BSN) Program

Students enrolled in Duquesne University’s RN to BSN online program have an opportunity to help older adults as they face chronic and age-related health problems. Nurses with a BSN understand advocacy and policy issues the older generation faces and are prepared to help.

The coursework in the university’s RN to BSN online program is flexible, allowing RNs to maintain their job and personal responsibilities while earning the degree. Academic advisors and faculty mentors work cooperatively with students to enable success. For more information, visit DU’s online RN-BSN program website.