Exploring the role of nurse executives in shaping healthcare policy

Exploring the role of nurse executives in shaping healthcare policy

Nursing is one of the most rewarding roles in healthcare. These days, it offers an incredibly varied career path, from hands-on care to leadership positions. In any nursing role, professionals can make a real difference to patients’ lives. Simply carrying out the basic functions of their role with compassion can make a patient’s experience positive.

Nurses can also affect lasting changes in roles that shape healthcare policy. This is what we’re going to look at in this article. We’ll examine how nurse executives can make real and lasting changes to healthcare by applying their experience and knowledge. We’ll also find out how to access this type of career through further study. So, if you’re a practicing nurse interested in developing your skills, this article is for you.

What is a nurse executive?

Let’s start by understanding the role of nurse executives. These professionals are the most senior nurses in any organization. Their principal role is to oversee their workplace’s day-to-day business, which requires various skills.

Nurse executives must have extensive clinical skills. At times, they may deliver patient care themselves, while at others, they will be supervising staff. As part of this remit, they will also ensure that systems follow best practice and evidence-based care. This means that patients have the best experiences and outcomes.

They also have a leadership role. Here, they inspire staff and embody the values of their organization. Leadership also means that nurse executives progress the work of their organization. They can do this through its policies, practices, and systems, ensuring that patients receive the best care.

Another part of their role is operational management. This is managing all the day-to-day activities that enable an organization to function. This involves budgeting, engaging with staff and stakeholders, and managing human resources. This role also ensures that the organization’s goals are understood by staff and met.

As you can see, the nurse executive role is highly skilled and varied – and one of its many rewards is the chance to develop healthcare that’s fit for the future through responsive policies.

Nurse executives and healthcare policy

We know that one of the key roles that nurse executives play is to use their wide-ranging knowledge and skills to shape healthcare policy. This broad knowledge base means that they can identify shifting trends in the population to serve their communities well.

An aging and diverse population

Nurse executives should be aware of the latest census statistics and how this affects healthcare. Let’s consider one of the most pressing issues for the future of healthcare in the US: the aging population.

According to a report by the Administration on Aging, 17% of the population were 65 or older in 2020 when the latest census was published. This is around 55.7 million people. This is in contrast to a mere 2% growth in the population aged under 65.

The report predicts that there will be around 80.8 million people aged 65 and older in the US by 2040. This is certain to influence healthcare systems. This is because these populations are more likely to have long-term health conditions and complex needs. An effective executive nurse will have statistics like these at the forefront of their mind. They will also understand the changes that need to be made to address them.

As well as aging, nurse executives will recognize other factors such as an increasingly diverse population. These should also inform healthcare policy. At a more local level, the make-up of the community in terms of employment, education level and accommodation situation can have an effect on healthcare. A nurse who has worked with deprived communities and is now in a senior position can advocate for these populations. Their goal will be to ensure that high-quality, accessible healthcare is available to all.

Policies on the future of patient care and education must reflect the diverse and changing needs of the entire population. Healthcare policy should be constantly reviewed. It must then be reformed to reflect the changing needs of the population — and executive nurses have a vital part in achieving this.

How executive nurses shape healthcare

Executive nurses are in a prime position to enable this goal. Nurses are the largest category in the healthcare workforce and are also considered the most trusted by patients and the general public. Those at senior levels have extensive knowledge acquired both on the frontline and as part of their continuing studies. This means that they have direct experience of patients’ needs as well as the knowledge to inform the future of healthcare.

Advocacy and involvement

One of the ways that they may do this is by using their advocacy skills, developed by caring for patients and seeking the right solutions for them. At a higher level, nurse executives can advocate for policies that improve patient care. This can be achieved by taking part in committees and networking with stakeholders – for example, lawmakers.

They may even attend legislative meetings. This enables them to understand how new policy becomes law, and they can offer testimony and evidence to support certain policies. For example, they may present the results of research projects they have been involved in that aim to improve patient care. Demonstrating the results at such sessions can have a powerful impact on how care is delivered in the future.

Executive nurses may also hold positions in professional organizations or on committees. This impacts on the shaping of new healthcare policies, allowing them to influence their content. Attending professional meetings or taking up a position on the board of a committee is another effective way for executive nurses to take part in the process of policymaking.


Communication is key when it comes to shaping healthcare policy. Executive nurses can use these skills to help people understand why policy should take a particular direction. They may do this by speaking at conferences and in media interviews. These are impactful ways to highlight their message to the general public and to those with executive power.

They may also use persuasive communication to express the needs of their patients at organizational meetings. Communication can also be effective on a more informal level. In their everyday interactions, executive nurses may act as the mouthpiece for the communities they work with. This can include dialogue with patients, staff or senior colleagues alike.

Nurse executives naturally have a deep understanding of their issues and empathy toward their needs. This empowers them to communicate these needs and illustrate the importance of shaping policy in their favor.


Executive nurses may take on an education-based role, such as nurse lecturer. This enables them to teach and guide the next generation of nurses who themselves may play a part in policymaking. They may educate patients and staff as part of their clinical remit. This could involve offering guidance on nutrition and wellbeing, for example.

On another level, they may inform legislators and policymakers as part of their work on committees. This work could also take the form of providing evidence to help shape new laws and policies.

Executive nurses will also recognize the value of educating and communicating with patients. This enables patients to take ownership of their health and wellbeing. At the same time, healthcare systems are improved for the future. This means that they will lobby for health education policies to ensure the best future for individual patients, communities and the healthcare system.

Throughout their career, nurses will ensure that their own education is up to date. This gives them the best chance of delivering quality, evidence-based care. It also helps them to understand the issues that inform healthcare policy. This continual learning and growth pattern means that they are prepared to take on ever-more senior and influential roles. These important positions can include playing a direct role in shaping healthcare policy.

One of the ways that they may do this is by embarking on a postgraduate program with a focus on leadership, healthcare policy and population health. If you’re already a practicing nurse, we’ll look at how this option could be accessible to you in the next section.

Are you passionate about the future of healthcare?

If you’re a nurse with a passion for improving the healthcare outcomes of the communities you serve, then further study could help you achieve this goal.

If you already have a master’s degree in nursing, then you may consider enrolling on a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program. A DNP Nursing Education is the highest degree in practice-centered nursing. Its goal is to prepare you for senior roles that could involve shaping healthcare policy. The online program offered by Wilkes University builds on your existing skills and knowledge, taking them to the next level. It focuses on topics that are essential for senior nursing. These include advocacy in healthcare and interprofessional collaboration for improving health outcomes.

Because coursework for the program is delivered 100% online, it’s the perfect format for busy professionals. It means that you can study from a place and at a time that suits you, saving on the cost and hassle of commuting to campus. You can also fit your studies around your existing work and home commitments. Also, you don’t have to relocate to study on the program.

You can take part in clinical placements, which allow you to put your new-found skills and knowledge into practice. A dedicated team will help you find a placement that’s local to you. As part of the program, you will also have the chance to take part in a residency, where you can meet other students and carry out practical skills.

This CCNE-accredited course can be completed over six terms or two years. So, you could start applying for senior roles sooner than you thought possible. These could include positions such as chief nursing officer or patient care director. These types of roles offer you the chance to play an active part in changing healthcare policy for the better.

You will also be rewarded by enhanced remuneration and the chance to follow a varied and meaningful career path, with many options open to you. If you have a desire to improve health outcomes for patients at the same time as improving your job prospects, be sure to inquire about this program.

Advocate for the communities you serve

Improving healthcare policy is essential for the delivery of better care. This is especially true today as the population of the US shifts and changes. Senior nurses play an integral part in achieving this goal. The sum of their experiences of working closely with patients means that they can provide valuable insights. When this knowledge is enhanced by the additional skills that a higher degree such as a DNP can offer, their role becomes even more valuable.

If you’re a nurse with a high level of education and a desire to see positive change, a DNP program could be your next step. It will equip you with the in-depth expertise you need to take on an executive role. This will enable you to advocate for the patients and communities you serve through shaping healthcare policy. Take this first step by inquiring about the online DNP program by Wilkes University today.

James Brian