According to Mason, Leavitt, and Chaffee (2002), public policy “encompasses the choices that a society, segment of society, or organization makes regarding its goals and priorities and the ways it will allocate its resources” (pp. 8). Thereby, health policy consists of the laws, regulations, and practices that affect the allocation of healthcare resources for the intended population and can encompass such arenas as economics, housing, and environmental concerns (Lundy & Janes, 2016).
It is important for professionals working within the healthcare field to recognize the impact of public policy on the health of their patients and therefore be able to accurately assess and interject their expertise into the policy-making process. For this reason, we will identify the ways in which public health nurses are involved with public policy and how this can affect the development of a proposal to improve the cardiovascular health of the Los Angeles County residents.
Lastly, we will discuss how my experiences thus far have strengthened my professional understanding of the public health role. Public policy is more than a set of laws or public ordinances; rather it is an entire process. Multiple stages occur throughout the process of policy-making, starting with identifying and defining a public health problem, advocating for policy change, setting the public agenda, analyzing alternative plans, implementing the best option, and evaluating the outcomes of the policy change and making adjustments as they are needed (Lundy & Janes, 2016).
All of these steps are necessary in order for policy change to occur. Throughout all of these stages, public health nurses are important figures because they take on the ever-important role of the patient advocate. In serving their communities, public health nurses have the advantage of being acutely aware of the problems and health needs of their residents. They are able to assess areas in which public policy is lacking, and they can quickly identify the health needs of their population that are left unmet.
Combining their astute community assessment skills with their knowledge of governmental public process creates a uniquely advantaged point of view that is invaluable to the advancement of public health. Therefore, given public health nurses’ desire and moral obligation to meet the needs of their patients, public health nurses can serve as excellent advocates for policy change and can recommend ways in which policy can best be implemented. When implementing new policy changes, it is imperative that public health professionals strive to ensure that said policy not only promotes equality, but equity.
It is the responsibility of public health professionals to ensure that the policies that are currently in place and all future policies to be enacted down the road provide the greatest good for the greatest amount of people. Therefore, officials must make sure to analyze the policy for any unforeseen effects that may emerge in the future. Because the mission of public health is to promote health and prevent disease of the general public, they must make sure that all groups will receive equal benefit and that no one group will bear a larger proportion of the burden (Malone, 2005).
A topic of increasing importance to public health is the increasing rates of obesity and its effects on the nation’s cardiovascular health. Due to changes in society, our nation is becomingly increasingly sedentary and at the same time increasing our consumption of processed foods high in fats, sugar, sodium, and carbohydrates (Radford, Jones, & Winterstein, 2015). Because of the impact that this diet is having on the public’s health and our healthcare resources, obesity has now become a matter of public health.
In fact, it has been estimated that this current generation will be the first to die at a younger age than their parents as a result of the chronic complications associated with obesity (Radford, Jones, & Winterstein, 2015). What’s worse is that we are now seeing cases of morbid obesity, heart disease, and type II diabetes in young children. As we try and develop a plan of action to combat the obesity epidemic, we need to look at ways to introduce public policy changes that will help the public to improve their diet.
There are several approaches that one could take in developing a policy aimed at combating obesity. To be successful, we need to change the current food environment by shifting our view of food and making unhealthy food look less attractive (Frieden, Dietz, & Collins, 2015). One way to do this would be to introduce bans on the advertisement of fast food on television. If you turn on the television, you will soon see a commercial that advertises a juicy hamburger alongside golden French fries and a refreshing soda, all for under ten dollars.
This advertising is aimed at getting people into the fast food establishments to purchase these food items that are largely contributing to the American populations struggle with obesity. By presenting an airbrushed vision of a perfect hamburger, the advertising firm is selling the public a false reality because they are presenting a true image of the nutritional impact of these foods, for example, what that hamburger will look like when it contributes to heart disease, diabetes, or stroke.
In addition, there are very few advertisements that are aimed at improving the image of healthy foods and promoting the consumption of fresh fruits or vegetables (Frieden, Dietz, & Collins, 2015). Therefore, placing bans or limitations on these advertisements will level the playing field by preventing the distortion of public opinion towards food. Public health nurses (PHNs) can play an integral role in the development and implementation of a policy limiting fast food advertising.
By working in the field, PHNs are able to assess which neighborhoods are at the most risk for obesity-related health complications and can thereby advocate for bans in these neighborhoods first. They can bring their knowledge and past experiences with the community forward to policy proposal hearings and can announce professional organizational support to encourage public attention. In addition, PHNs would be instrumental in devising the specific objectives and the necessary actions required to begin the implementation of this policy in the community (Lundy & Janes, 2016).
While initiating this policy will undoubtedly require enormous effort, interdisciplinary coordination, and policy instruments, PHNs are in an excellent position to garner both public and professional support to influence change. During the time I have spent with my public health nurse, I have been able to observe a few ways in which she is involved in public health policy. While my nurse is not actively working on a specific policy change at the moment, she does make sure that she stays informed of the policy environment and the public agenda.
For instance, she is a member of several professional nursing associations and receives their published newsletters in order to educate herself on current topics in the field of public health. She also follows local political events and makes sure to vote in her own community for the politicians and laws that will best serve her community’s health. My nurse informed me that the last policy change with which she was directly involved was the recent vaccination law that did away with the personal belief exemption for school-aged children.
She stated that she attended several public hearings and educational sessions to inform the public about the importance of being vaccinated. Therefore, while her specific job description does not directly involve her in policy change, she still is an active participant in advocating for public health through the process of policy making. After researching public health policy and seeing the ways in which it unfolds in the public health sector, I have been able to develop a stronger view of what my future responsibilities will be in advocating for the health of my patients once I receive my nursing license.
When working in acute care as a bedside nurse it may be easy to brush off the world of politics and policy, but after completing this assignment I now understand how ignoring public policy and its efforts towards primary prevention is doing a disservice for both my patients and myself. For this reason, I can start now by becoming more aware of the policy environment of the community in which I live and plan to work.
I can conduct my own assessments of current health issues and the efforts that public health professionals are currently undertaking to try and prevent or remedy these problems. I will also make sure that once I graduate, I join a professional nursing association so that I can remain connected with the nursing community and receive news and updates about current issues and policy. By involving myself in the field of public health policy, I will fulfill my role of patient advocate, and ensure that my patients are receiving the necessary resources to support optimal wellness.