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What is a Health Policy Nurse: Salary, Job Description & Outlook


Nurses make up approximately 30% of the U.S. healthcare workforce, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)and because nurses comprise the majority of healthcare personnel in the U.S., they have unique insight into the needs of the healthcare system.


Health policy is a tool that nurses can use to improve the safety and quality of healthcare. Health policy nurses draw from their clinical experiences and education to influence health policy and make healthcare safer and more accessible and equitable.

What Is Health Policy?

Health policy, also called healthcare policy, refers to rules and laws that are designed to achieve health goals in a community. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health policy even more broadly as the “decisions, plans, and actions that are undertaken to achieve specific healthcare goals within a society.”


Evidence-based health policies improve the health and well-being of people at the local, state, and national levels — making society healthier across the lifespan. Healthcare professionals such as health policy nurses and health policy analysts play a key role in establishing these important guidelines.

Health Policy Topics

Health policies can encompass a wide range of topics, such as the regulation of healthcare providers, the financing of healthcare services, the provision of healthcare to underserved populations, the prevention and control of diseases, and the promotion of healthy behaviors. Health policies may also address issues related to healthcare quality, patient safety, and medical ethics.


Health policies can take the form of laws, regulations, and rules and can apply to any facet of the healthcare system — from national healthcare practice laws to local regulations on mobile clinics, pharmacies, and outpatient facilities. Here are some examples of health policies that exist in various countries around the world:


  • Health insurance regulations
  • Vaccination mandates
  • Medical malpractice laws
  • Mental health parity laws
  • Universal healthcare
  • Food safety regulations
  • Tobacco control policies
  • Drug approval and safety regulations
  • Workplace safety regulations
  • Environmental health regulations
  • Patient privacy and data protection laws
  • Quality improvement initiatives for healthcare delivery
  • Health education and promotion programs
  • Health research funding and oversight


Specific health policies can vary widely depending on the country, region, or even the local community.

How to Create a Health Policy

The process of creating a health policy varies depending on the specific context and the stakeholders involved. Typical steps include the following:


  • Identify the health issue: The first step in creating a health policy is to identify a specific health issue that needs to be addressed. Does a town need safer drinking water? Do older adults living in rural communities need better access to medical resources? Identifying an issue often involves conducting research to understand the nature and scope of the problem and gathering input from people who are affected by the issue.
  • Develop a policy proposal: Based on the information initial stakeholders gather, they can work together to develop a proposal for a health policy. This may involve outlining the goals and objectives of the policy, the actions that will be taken to achieve those goals, and the resources needed to implement the policy.
  • Rally stakeholders: Once a policy proposal has been developed, it is important to consult with a wide range of stakeholders who may be affected by the health policy. This can include healthcare providers (such as health policy nurses), patient advocacy groups, policymakers, and members of the public. Stakeholder input can help to refine the policy proposal and ensure it is responsive to the needs and concerns of those who will be impacted by the policy.
  • Draft a policy: Based on stakeholder input, a final draft of the health policy can be prepared. The policy should outline the specific actions that will be taken to address the health issue.
  • Review and revise: Before the policy is implemented, it should be reviewed and revised as needed to ensure that it is effective, feasible, and sustainable. This may involve seeking additional input from experts in the field, conducting pilot tests of the policy, and analyzing the potential costs and benefits of the policy.
  • Implement and monitor: Once the policy is approved, it can be implemented and monitored to ensure that it is achieving its intended goals. Regular evaluation and feedback can help to identify areas where the policy may need to be adapted or revised over time.

Health Policy Issues

The U.S. Healthy People 2030 initiative is a set of 10-year national objectives for improving public health and reducing health disparities in the U.S. Some of the many health policy objectives in this initiative include expanding:


  • Access to safe and fluoridated drinking water
  • Treatment for tobacco cessation programs
  • Mental health benefits
  • Universal helmet and safety belt laws


These objectives aim to improve the health and well-being of the U.S. population by addressing various factors that contribute to preventable health problems, such as exposure to unsafe drinking water, tobacco use, mental health conditions, and preventable injuries from accidents.


Addressing these health policy issues will require coordinated efforts from multiple stakeholders, including policymakers, healthcare providers, and community organizations.

Safe Drinking Water

Access to safe drinking water is a fundamental requirement for maintaining good health and preventing illness. In the United States, the vast majority of people have access to safe drinking water through community water systems, but there are still some areas where the quality of drinking water is a concern.


Unsafe drinking water can contain harmful contaminants such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, and chemicals, which can cause a wide range of health problems. Some of the health risks associated with contaminated drinking water include infectious diseases, chemical exposure, reproductive and developmental problems (such as birth defects), and chronic health conditions (such as diabetes, kidney disease, and heart disease).


The Healthy People 2030 objective related to this health policy issue is to increase the percentage of people who have access to community water systems that meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) health-based drinking water standards. The target for 2030 is to increase the percentage of the U.S. population with access to safe drinking water from 85.6% to 90.6%.

Tobacco Cessation Programs

Tobacco use is a leading cause of preventable death and disease worldwide. One of the most important actions an individual can take to improve their health is to quit smoking or stop using tobacco products.


Tobacco use is a major risk factor for several chronic diseases, including heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Quitting smoking or using tobacco can significantly reduce the risk of developing these diseases — even in people who have already been diagnosed with them.


The Healthy People 2030 health policy objective related to this goal is to increase the percentage of tobacco users who receive recommended treatment for tobacco use and dependence. The target for 2030 is to increase recommended treatment from 28.4% to 34% of tobacco users.

Mental Health Treatment

Major depression is a common mental health condition that affects an estimated 7% of adults in the United States. It is a leading cause of disability worldwide, and the World Health Organization predicts that by 2030, major depression will be the leading cause of disability globally.


Major depression is often associated with other health conditions, including chronic pain, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. These comorbidities can increase the risk of complications and can make it more difficult to treat depression effectively. Additionally, major depression is associated with significant economic costs, including lost productivity, healthcare costs, and disability payments. In the U.S. alone, major depression is a health policy issue that is estimated to cost more than $210 billion per year in lost productivity and healthcare costs.


The Healthy People 2030 public health policy objective related to this issue is to increase the percentage of people with mental health conditions who receive treatment. The target for 2030 is to increase treatment from 61.9% to 71% of adults who have experienced a major depressive episode in the past 12 months.

Helmet and Safety Belt Laws

By reducing the risk of fatalities and serious injuries, helmet and safety belt laws can help improve public safety and prevent unnecessary deaths and disabilities.


Helmet and safety belt laws have been shown to reduce the risk of fatalities and serious injuries in the event of a motor vehicle accident or another traumatic event. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), helmets can reduce the risk of head injury by up to 80% in the event of a motorcycle crash. Additionally, seat belts can reduce the risk of death by up to 45% and the risk of serious injury by up to 50%.


Traumatic injuries resulting from motor vehicle accidents and other events can be expensive to treat, and the healthcare costs associated with these injuries can be a significant burden on individuals, families, and the healthcare system as a whole. By reducing the risk of these injuries, helmet and safety belt laws can help to lower healthcare costs and prevent financial hardship for individuals and families.


The Healthy People 2030 health policy objective related to this goal is to increase the use of safety helmets and safety belts among the U.S. population. The target for 2030 is to increase the percentage of drivers and passengers who use seat belts from 90.7% to 94% and the percentage of motorcycle riders who use helmets from 69.3% to 80%.

What Is a Health Policy Nurse?

Having discussed what health policy is and what health policies can do, it’s time to learn about the role that nurses can play in designing and implementing health policies — to improve the health and safety of our communities.


A health policy nurse is a professional nurse who takes an active role in shaping health policy. Health policy nurses advise policymakers and advocates on nursing and public health issues, explaining how specific policy proposals may affect healthcare delivery systems and processes.


An example of a health policy that nurses may advocate for is the establishment of nurse-to-patient staffing ratios in hospitals. Research has shown that understaffing of nurses in hospitals can lead to adverse patient outcomes such as increased patient mortality, longer hospital stays, and higher rates of nurse burnout and job dissatisfaction.


Health policy nurses might advocate for establishing minimum staffing ratios that ensure an adequate number of nurses to care for patients based on their acuity level and the type of care required. This policy can help to improve patient safety, reduce healthcare costs, and promote job satisfaction and retention among nurses.

Fundamental Skills for Health Policy Nurses

Health policy nursing is a specialized field that requires a combination of clinical and policy skills. Some of these skills include:


  • Research skills to conduct literature reviews, gather and analyze healthcare data, and inform policy development and advocacy.
  • Political acumen to navigate the political landscape of healthcare policy and advocacy, including understanding the roles and priorities of key stakeholders and institutions.
  • Communication skills to communicate effectively with policymakers, healthcare providers, and other stakeholders in both oral and written form.
  • Cultural competence to understand and work effectively with diverse populations and communities, including those with varying healthcare needs, cultural backgrounds, and perspectives.
  • Collaboration skills to work effectively with other healthcare professionals and stakeholders — including policymakers, healthcare providers, patient advocacy groups, and community organizations.


With these skills, health policy nurses must be able to translate their clinical knowledge and experience into effective policy solutions that improve healthcare outcomes and promote health equity.


For example, based on their research and analysis, a health policy nurse could develop policy proposals that aim to improve access to mental health services for underserved populations — such as expanding Medicaid coverage for mental health services or increasing funding for mental health clinics in underserved areas. Then, with buy-in from other community members, health policy nurses can advocate for the passage of new laws that expand essential health services to that particular community.

Health Policy Nurse Salary and Job Outlook

The role of a health policy nurse is relatively new, so data on health policy nurse salaries and employment outlook is limited. However, the median annual wage for RNs was $77,600 in May 2021, according to the BLS. That same year, the median annual wage for advanced practice nurses including nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners was $123,780 annually.


The BLS projects employment of RNs to grow 6% between 2021 and 2031, while the number of advanced practice nurses will grow 40% over the same time period.

How to Become a Health Policy Nurse

As the largest segment of the U.S. healthcare workforce, nurses have crucial insight into healthcare delivery in communities nationwide. The total number of active registered nurses (RNs) in the U.S. was 4.2 million in 2020, according to the 2020 National Nursing Workforce Survey. Many of these nurses are in specialized or advanced practice nursing roles, such as health policy nurse, that may require specific experience and credentials.

Educational Pathways for Health Policy Nurses

Becoming a health policy nurse requires a combination of clinical nursing experience as well as advanced education and training in healthcare policy and advocacy. Here are the steps to becoming a health policy nurse:


  1. Earn a BSN: Nurses need at least a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and experience in the nursing field before transitioning to a policy role. To do this, graduates with a BSN should obtain licensure as an RN by passing the NCLEX-RN exam in their state.
  2. Work as an RN to Gain Clinical Experience: Most health policy nursing roles require prior clinical experience as a nurse. Graduates should gain experience in a clinical setting, such as a hospital, clinic, or long-term care facility.
  3. Volunteer to Gain Policy Experience: Those hoping to become health policy nurses may also wish to gain experience in health policy while working their clinical jobs. Graduates can do this by volunteering with healthcare organizations or advocacy groups, attending policy conferences and events, or taking courses in health policy and advocacy.
  4. Earn an Advanced Degree: Many health policy nursing roles require a graduate degree, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). Some nurses skip the master’s degree stage by enrolling in a BSN to DNP program. A graduate degree can provide nurses with the advanced knowledge and skills needed to work in healthcare policy and advocacy.

Advanced Degrees for Health Policy Nursing

An advanced degree such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is preferred to help nurses advance into the health policy nurse role. Maryville University’s BSN to DNP program is designed to prepare registered nurses with a BSN for advanced nursing practice and leadership roles. The program is offered online, with courses delivered in a flexible, asynchronous format that allows students to complete coursework on their own schedule.


The BSN to DNP curriculum at Maryville University features:


  • Core courses in nursing leadership, healthcare systems, research methods, and healthcare policy
  • Specialized tracks where students can choose to gain expertise as a family nurse practitioner (FNP), adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner (AGPCNP), adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner (AGACNP), pediatric primary care nurse practitioner (PNP), or psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP)
  • A clinical practicum that empowers students to gain hands-on experience in their chosen specialization track; students complete a total of 1,000 clinical hours, which can be completed in their local area with the guidance of a preceptor
  • A DNP project that demonstrates the student’s ability to apply advanced nursing knowledge and skills to address a real-world healthcare issue

Start a Career in Health Policy

Maryville University’s online BSN to DNP program is designed to provide students with the advanced knowledge and skills needed to excel in nursing practice and leadership roles — including health policy nurse. The program combines online coursework with clinical experiences to provide students with a comprehensive and flexible learning experience.


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