Preparing Future Nurse Leaders to Boldly Advocate for Health Policy

By Milenko Martinovich | July 2021

When crafting health care policies that affect patients, a nurse’s perspective — their intimate knowledge of patients, ability to identify solutions in a dynamic environment, and understanding of the health care system — is crucial to developing reforms that ensure quality care. 

Despite these advantages — and that nurses comprise the largest segment of the health care workforce — nurses are often excluded from health policy development. 

The UCSF School of Nursing, through its Master of Science and PhD programs, is equipping future nurse leaders with the knowledge and skills to advocate for meaningful change in health policy. 

“We want nurses to have a seat at the table,” said professor Susan Chapman. “We have fewer members in legislative offices and other policymaking groups. We’re underrepresented. We need to be heard.”

A Leader in Health Policy Education 

The School of Nursing has been a leader in health policy education for decades and remains one of three U.S. nursing schools to offer a health policy specialty in their master’s program, according to registerednursing.org.

The School’s health policy curriculum combines didactic and experiential learning led by faculty members Chapman, Ulrike Muench, the health policy specialty coordinator, and Stella Bialous, whose research and expertise in health policy have been sought by health care and government agencies across the globe. 

Chapman instructs students on how to translate their research to specific audiences, write policy briefs and impact policymakers through testimony. Muench teaches students how to use data in policy development and evaluate policy effectiveness. Bialous introduces students to health policy theories and examines how policies are constructed. Along with courses examining social determinants of health, health care economics and data analytics, students develop expertise in the key elements of health policy, develop a strong voice to advocate for change, and present data to policy makers and stakeholders to bolster policy solutions. 

Data analytics, a new class introduced to the curriculum this past year, prepares students to use data in the policy process. 

“Large amounts of health care and population level data are now available everywhere,” Muench said. “Data science is a powerful way to inform evidence-based policy choices, as well as improve health care delivery.”

Courses in the health policy curriculum are open to all master’s and PhD students. 

“Nurses should know what to say when that voice is given to them,” Bialous said. “What nurses offer is enhanced by their experiences with patients, their families and the communities they care for — and that’s important. But there is a whole component of health policy as a discipline that, when added to personal caregiver experience, makes that voice a little louder.”

Read the full story in the UCSF School of Nursing's Science of Caring online publication.