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PhD Nursing Health Policy Specialty

The Nurse as Health Policy Specialist. 
The nursing profession has a growing role in the health policy arena.

The health policy program is a cross-disciplinary program that prepares students to assess the policy dimensions of issues in the clinical practice, teaching, and research environments within which they work and to translate nursing practice issues into policy issues.

The focus is on preparing students to identify, critically analyze and evaluate laws, regulations, and policies at the institutional, local, state, and national levels that impact their patients and the practice of nursing, and in developing knowledge of the history, structure, and process of health policymaking in the United States.

Public policies are the public actions that may be taken by policy makers at the federal, state and local levels. These actions can include budgetary changes, legislative changes, regulatory changes, and legal actions. Public policy work involves the process of public discourse, and requires a variety of skills and knowledge. Before nurses can advocate for public policy changes, they need a clear understanding of the current policies and how the health care system operates, including the financial incentives that influence health organizations.

The curriculum is designed to provide academic preparation in health policy. It builds upon core doctoral programs including nursing theory, research methods, policy and economics, and cultural competency, and focuses on health policy and ethics as applied to policy and clinical arenas.

Theory courses for the program focus on theories of the policy process, including theories from nursing, sociology, political science, and economics as they relate to nursing and health policy. The courses provide training in the policy making process not only in the U.S. but also in the international health care area.

Health policy is a multi-disciplinary area, where the expertise of nurses, sociologists, economists, political scientists, and health experts are utilized to exam issues of health care access, quality and costs.

Our innovative program is housed in the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences in the School of Nursing. The program involves faculty from other departments in the School of Nursing and the School of Medicine as well as from several research institutes and centers at UCSF utilizing a large multi-disciplinary faculty to develop a leading national program for the training of nurses in health policy.

Such programs include the Center on Social Disparities and Health, Institute for Health and Aging (School of Nursing), the Institute for Health Policy Studies (School of Medicine), the Center for Research and Innovation in Patient Care (School of Nursing), the Center for the Health Professions (School of Medicine), and the Center for Tobacco Research and Education (School of Medicine).

These programs and selected faculty serve to teach classes and to mentor students in research and provide residencies as part of their health policy training. This faculty, with large and successful research programs, also provides valuable research assistantships and employment for students during their educational programs.

The program prepares a strong cadre of nurse researchers who can step into positions of health policy leadership in legislative organizations, regulatory agencies, licensing bodies, and policy organizations. The goal is to contribute to and improve health policy to benefit patients, the public and the nursing profession. Additionally, graduates are prepared to assume academic and research positions where they can initiate and contribute to health services and policy studies.

Program Objectives

As part of the training process, the specific objectives of the specialty in health policy are for students to:

  • Analyze the history, structure, and process of health policy making in the United States;
  • Assess the policy and ethical dimensions of issues in the clinical practice, teaching, and research environments, and translate nursing practice issues into policy issues;
  • Identify, critically analyze, and evaluate laws, regulations, and policies at the institutional, local, state, and national levels that impact patients and the practice of nursing;
  • Conduct health services research and policy and economic analyses;
  • Participate in policy and ethical debates and utilize criteria and processes by which policies are developed, implemented, evaluated, changed, and maintained;
  • Participate in the policy-making process, including core knowledge in health services research, policy theory and analysis, economics, ethics, medical sociology, health organizations and professions, and labor issues.
Program Curriculum

Each doctoral student works with his or her advisor in developing an individualized plan for their doctoral work. Students take core methods and theory courses in the program and are given wide flexibility in developing health policy electives that meet their own interests.

Students are required to take at least one research rotation with a health policy faculty member during their program. Students will also be encouraged to collaborate with faculty members on research to gain experience in a variety of research methods and projects.

During the third year, doctoral nursing students may participate in an interdisciplinary health policy-training program at the Institute for Health Policy Studies. The seminars for this program are held one day a week and include a writing workshop where students present and critique their work in progress (articles, grant proposals, and other work).

The program also has a noon proseminar on a health policy issue. The health policy proseminar brings together doctoral and master's students in health policy with health policy faculty members and policy leaders on a weekly basis. The discussions focus on the leading health policy debates and faculty and students present their research.

UCSF offers a large number of health policy courses in a wide array of areas. Students can individually tailor their health policy interests and have a wide range of faculty to work with at the University. In addition, students on the UCSF campus can take courses at UC Berkeley offered in the School of Public Health, Medical Anthropology and Sociology and Business School. These larger University resources enable students to take courses depending on their specific research projects.

A sample Model Curriculum for the Nursing PhD Health Policy program is available here: 2012-2014 PhD Health Policy Model Curriculum

Health Policy Specialty Coursework

Coursework covers the policy process including the structure of health care systems, economics of health care, communications and leadership strategies in policy, policy analysis, cost analysis in health care, health policy research, and the ethical and social aspects of policymaking. Students may choose policy-relevant electives focused on particular issues, including aging and long term care policy, ethics, managed care and financing, tobacco control policy, children and adolescent policy, labor market issues, race, class and gender factors in health care, social policy, women's health, and many other areas. Core doctoral coursework is taken in addition to specialty courses in health policy.

Core Health Policy Specialty Courses

Theories of the Policy Process focuses on learning and using theories of the policy process, including analyzing how health policy problems are constructed. Perspectives on agenda setting, media roles, advocacy, policy innovation, diffusion, and implementation are integrated with examples of policy problems.

Organizational Analysis of U.S. Healthcare examines formal organizational theory, structure, and processes of health care organizations. The focus is on how organizations function within the socioeconomic and political environment in the United States.

Policy Proseminars are designed to extend knowledge of the varied scope of health policy research and analysis. The series presents the policy research work of core and affiliated health policy faculty on the campus and offers the opportunity for students to become acquainted with the faculty in the program. The focus is on specific policy research, analysis and implementation strategies.

Research Rotations provide students the opportunity to learn hands-on policy and research analysis working with faculty on a policy or research project. Guided laboratory experience is designed to develop mastery in policy analysis or research.

Race/Class Factors in Health Care Delivery examines racial and class membership impact on access to health care services, variations in the quality of those services, and how professional and sub-professional roles in the health care system are organized along racial and class lines.

Health Policy I & II addresses models of health policy research with a focus on integrating health services research theory and methods. Health service research designs that focus on high priority national policy issues are examined, addressing key health policy research questions and assessing policy outcomes.

Health Care Economics and Policy provides a critical analysis of economic, sociological, and political factors that affect health care. It examines U.S. health policies that impact access, quality, costs, delivery systems, professional practices, and reform.

Ethical Issues in Nursing Practice explores selected ethical theories including social ethics related to health care and nursing practice within the institutional and broader health care policy context.

Communications and Policy Leadership focuses on developing students' skills in various types of policy-relevant communications and leadership across different policy venues.

Policy and Politics of Health examines health care policy and politics in terms of historical and contemporary issues related to access, quality, and cost. Organizational, financing, and labor market issues are included, along with strategies for social change.

Select Policy Electives

Perspectives on Social Policy and Health examines the impact of family and welfare policy on health status, health care access, and health outcomes. The course explores theories on the historical constructions of poverty and the poor and governmental policies affecting poor and working class employment, family supports, income subsidy, childcare, and access to health care. It examines the debates over universal access to health care and the impact of social constructions of poverty on the debate.

Social Policy and Aging provides a critical analysis of major social, economic, and political issues of growing old in America. It examines social policy in the public and private sectors including health, income, and social services and considers prospects for social change and political movements.

Tobacco Control Policy Issues focuses on issues and evolution of tobacco control policies in the U.S. and internationally. Lectures and readings in the history of tobacco control will prepare students to engage in weekly discussions and case studies of particular tobacco control policies, and to apply lessons from tobacco policy to other arenas.

Ethics & Policy in Genetics & Genomics explores ethics, philosophy, and social policy of genetics research, screening, and therapeutic interventions using case-based discussions. Social and health care implications related to the understanding of human nature, informed consent, insurance, employment, emotional impact, and predictive variability of genetic screening will be explored.

Basic Topics in Leadership in Health Care Systems examines basic topics in leadership in health care systems including management, human resources, financing and budgeting, and feedback and coaching.

Managing Change in Health Care Systems examines the principles of organizational change in health care systems. These include strategy, decision-making and conflict management, communications, and quality improvement and management.

Leadership Development & Self Renewal examines the principles of leadership and self-renewal including negotiating, motivating others, problem solving, managing diversity, improving care management, and developing skills and knowledge.

Information Technology and Organizational Change examines information technology (IT) in health care organizations, with a focus on electronic medical records. The course covers: the potential for IT to improve quality; the economics of IT; theories of diffusion of innovations; theories of the relationship between IT, and behavior, practice and organizational changes; the costs and benefits of IT in health care costs and benefits and quality improvement; and alternative policy approaches to hasten IT adoption in health care.

Program Leaders

Ruth Malone, RN, PhD, FAAN
Chair and Professor
Director, PhD in Nursing Health Policy Program,
Co-Director, MS in Nursing Health Policy Program
Dept. of Social and Behavioral Sciences

"I am interested in how health policy problems and trends emerge, are defined, sustained, and changed, and, in particular, how industry and mass media figure in the construction of policy around health risk issues. My current projects involve exploring tobacco industry and media influences on tobacco use, policies, and perceptions, particularly among marginalized groups."

Susan Chapman, RN, PhD
Associate Professor
Director, MS in Nursing Health Policy program,
Associate Professor in the Dept. of Social and Behavioral Sciences,
Director of Allied Health Workforce Studies in the Center for Health Professions

"There are health policy issues in every component of nursing practice. This program seeks to prepare nurses to identify and become active leaders in policy change. By understanding and addressing these issues, nurses can make a difference in the health of our nation."

Charlene Harrington, RN, PhD, FAAN
Professor Emerita, Nursing Health Policy Program, Dept. of Social and Behavioral Sciences

"My primary research interests focus on quality, access, utilization, and expenditures of nursing home care, home and community based care, and personal care services, as well as labor market and managed care issues."

Patricia Benner, RN, PhD, FAAN
Professor Emerita, former Thelma Shobe Endowed Chair in Ethics and Spirituality,
Dept. of Social and Behavioral Sciences,
Joint Appointment, Dept. of Physiological Nursing

"My research focus is in skill acquisition and clinical judgment in nursing practice, and articulating the knowledge and skill in practice in order to make it public, and visible. More recently I am working on End-of-life care issues occurring in critical care settings."

Robert Newcomer, PhD
Professor Emeritus, Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences

"My work is directed to concerns of health care financing, quality assurance, and quality improvement—mostly in long term care or the interface between acute and long term care. This work has involved outcomes studies of disease management, disability prevention, and caregiver support interventions; and descriptive studies of state long term care delivery systems (including supportive housing). A growing area of my interest is in long term care labor supply, most particularly personal assistance providers. This work is reflected in the UCSF Center for PAS and in several grant proposals under review. Additionally, I continue to be interested in health outcomes studies. Much of this work has involved care coordination interventions. Recent endeavors have focused this work around palliative and end of life care."

Health Policy Advisory Committee

The Health Policy program has the assistance of the program advisory committee who provides consultation and promotion of the program. The members of the advisory committee are very enthusiastic about the program and actively participate in program promotion and student recruitment. Their contribution to the establishment and evolution of the program is invaluable. The following individuals serve on the advisory committee:

  • Diana M. Bonta, RN, DrPH
    Vice President, Public Affairs,
    Kaiser Permanente Southern California Region, and
    former Director of the California Department of Health Services.
  • Marilyn Chow, RN, DNSc, FAAN,
    Vice President of Patient Care Services,
    Kaiser Pemanente, California Division
  • Sally Cohen, RN, PhD
    Associate Professor and Senior Fellow, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Center for Health Policy, University of New Mexico
  • Kristine M. Gebbie, RN, DrPH
    Director, Center for Health Policy,
    Columbia University School of Nursing
  • David Keepnews, RN, PhD, J.D., FAAN
    Associate Professor, Hunter- Bellevue School of Nursing , Hunter College
    Editor, Policy, Politics & Nursing Practice
  • Elizabeth Saviano, RN, PhD, J.D.
    Principal, Law Offices of Elizabeth C. Saviano, San Francisco
Application Information

Take note that your application will be to the "Nursing Doctoral (PhD) Program, with your area of specialization/research interest as Health Policy, so your file will receive appropriate screening.

Please visit the PhD Nursing Application Process page for further information.

For more information, please contact:  Brandee.Woleslagle@ucsf.edu

last updated 3/11/2013

Nursing Health Policy program links: