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An Activist Looks at Nursirtg’s Role
in Health Policy Development
Stephanie L. Ferguson, PhD, RN, FAAN
-Health care delivery systems are evolving and
transforming rapidly. Nurses will need new leader-
ship and policy skills to meet the challenge of ensur-
ing patient care safety and quality health care deliv-
ery. Nurses bring a unique perspective to health
care policy development because of their educa-
tional training, professional values and ethics,
advocacy skills, and experiential background. Sig-
nificant progress has occurred over the years
toward advancing nursing’s presence, role, and
influence in the development of health care policy.
However, more nurses need to learn how to identify
issues strategically; work with decision makers;
understand who holds the power in the workplace,
communities, state and federal level organizations;
and understand who controls the resources for health
care services. In health care policy development,
nurses are essential in ensuring quality health care
that is accessible and affordable for all women and
their infants. More nurses need to actively work as
leaders in the health policy arena. JOGNN, 30,
546-551 ; 2001.
Keywords: Activist-Health policy develop-
ment-Nurses in politics
Accepted: March 2001
Nurses bring a unique perspective to health care
policy development because of their educational
training, professional values and ethics, advocacy
skills, and experiential background. Significant
progress has occurred over the years in advancing
nursing’s presence, role, and influence in the
health care policy development arena. Nurses have
historically been active in policy development and
politics. Examples of nurse leaders include Flo-
rence Nightingale, Sojourner Truth, Lillian Wald,
and Margaret Sanger. These women played an extra-
ordinary and significant role in health care policy
development and women’s and infants’ health.
Nurses’ involvement in health policy develop-
ment ensures that health care is safe, high quality,
accessible, and affordable. Today, nurses are mak-
ing changes in health care: They are being
appointed and elected to political offices and posi-
tions on boards and commissions at the local,
state, national, and international levels. In the
United States, there are three elected nurses in
Congress and approximately 115 nurses elected to
state legislative houses (American Nurses Associa-
tion; see www.nursingwor1d.org). Individual nurs-
es are appointed to decision-making roles: Dr.
Mary Wakefield, director of the Center for Health
Policy, Research and Ethics at George Mason Uni-
versity, Fairfax, Virginia, and Dr. Beverly Malone,
past president of the American Nurses Association
and former deputy assistant secretary for health,
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
were recently appointed to the 32-member panel
of experts on the National Advisory Commission
on Consumer Protection and Quality in Health Care.
These nursing experts were instrumental in the
development of a consumer bill of rights. Dr. Judy
Lewis of Virginia Commonwealth University
School of Nursing and active member of the Asso-
ciation of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neona-
tal Nurses (AWHONN) was recently appointed to
the Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Genetic
Testing. As noted by Haylock (2000), the inclu-
sion of the above nurses on the National Advisory
Commission on Consumer Protection and Quality
in Health Care and the Advisory Committee on
Genetic Testing is acknowledgment of nursing’s role
as guardian of patient health and safety (p. 77).
546 JOGNN Volume 30, Number 5 These leaders illustrate the role nurses play on high vis- ibility boards and commissions that develop health pol-
icy and ensure quality health care for the public.
Nursing organizations provide opportunities for
nurses to develop leadership skills in...
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