Pennsylvania ambassadors program puts nurses at forefront of policy advocacy

A nurse ambassadors program created by the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania is elevating the voices of nurses in legislative policy, including some from Jefferson Health, to help implement changes on key issues such as workplace violence and nursing shortages. 

"At the end of the day, good policy has the ability to level the playing field but the policy needs to be informed by those with expertise and with those real life experiences," Sarah Lawver, HAP's senior director of legislative and grassroots advocacy, told Becker's. "And lawmakers hear from so many people every single day about countless topics, but the most compelling and most credible voices are going to be those with that expertise within their districts."

The program was launched at the end of 2021, partly as a result of the pandemic. 

"It pointed to the need for nurse leaders to speak directly to those that are making decisions in their district," Ms. Lawver said. 

Some of the nurses involved in the program are from Philadelphia-based Jefferson Health, five of whom were trained this past spring to become HAP nurse ambassadors. Since then, they've been involved in conversations with local government officials about issues that affect the nursing workforce. 

They've focused on creative ways nursing leaders are trying to combat the nursing shortage and how legislators can support these efforts. 

"This is a group we need to really bring together, provide them with some education, connect them in a more meaningful and intentional way with our legislators and really help them be a voice in helping us drive health policy," Kate Fitzpatrick, DNP, RN, chief nursing officer at Jefferson Health, told Becker's. 

Nurses represent the largest group of healthcare professionals in the country with 4.3 million registered nurses in every aspect of healthcare. They're also the most trusted profession, leading Gallup's poll as being perceived as the most honest and ethical profession. 

"So I think when groups like the Hospital Association of Pennsylvania think about whose voices are really important and closest to some of these issues, nurses come front and center," Ms. Fitzpatrick added.

The Jefferson Health nurse ambassadors are now reaching out to federal legislators to revisit the core issues they discussed with local leaders. Specifically, Ms. Fitzpatrick said, they're working on getting nurses easier access to their authorization to test numbers so they can take the nursing boards exam and advocating for guidelines around temporary practice permits so new graduate nurses can start work before they pass their boards. 

"They're experiencing the real-life, real-time issues on the ground, and their expertise is of great value to those policy decisions impacting patients and those working in healthcare," Ms. Lawver said. 

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