LAS VEGAS — With only 19 states plus the District of Columbia allowing full practice authority for nurse practitioners and three states currently considering bills that negate practice, the profession is at a legislative crossroads.

Despite these difficulties, nurse practitioners (NPs) can influence policy and break down barriers to NP practice. New and experienced NPs alike have opportunities to advocate for better policies at the state and federal level, according to Laura Searcy, MN, APN, PPCNP-BC, Chair of the Health Policy Committee of the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (NAPNAP).

“Every pediatric advance practice registered nurse (APRN) needs to get involved, write, and talk with their legislators regularly, not just when legislation is pending,” urged Searcy in an interview with The Clinical Advisor.

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“Many pediatric APRNs underestimate the power they have as constituents and the value elected officials place on their constituents’ priorities and opinions.”

NPs have an advantage, however, in regards to their medical expertise — most legislators do not have a background in health care and child health. “We are each a valuable resource to them,” said Searcy.

“There is a disconnect between the high level of care that APRNs are well prepared to provide and the limited level of care that outdated state practice laws allow them to deliver.”

ARPNs are working in 10 to 15 states to introduce bills that will help fill the increasing need for health care that NPs can deliver. Increasing transparency and measuring the care delivered by NPs are crucial components of new practice policy.

“In an era of needed attention to quality of care, our care must be identifiable and measurable,” emphasized Searcy.

Advocacy at the local level

NPs can reach out to their community leaders to raise awareness of the advanced education and high skill levels NPs possess and how NPs can increase the community’s access to quality, cost-effective health care.

“Legislators need to know that consumer groups, hospital associations, insurers, employers, and others beyond the APRN community believe that removing barriers from APRNs increases consumers’ access to care and choice of providers,” suggested Searcy.

“Ask organizations and consumer groups for their support, ask them to write letters of support and maintain a list of supporters to share with legislators.”

NPs can put themselves forward as candidates for community board and advisory panels in the government and private sector, as well as school boards and parent advisory committees.

Another strategy NPs can employee to raise awareness is to invite elected officials to their practice site. “If a picture is worth a thousand words, seeing something first hand is worth at least a million words,” said Searcy. A site visit allows officials to see the high level of care NPs provide and the barriers NPs face in providing care.

“If more members are involved at the grassroots level, we have a greater power to influence legislation,” noted Searcy.

“My colleagues on the NAPNAP Executive Board and I believe that everyone’s efforts are valuable. Lobbyists do not sway legislators — constituents who can vote sway legislators.”

Laura Searcy, MN, APN, PPCNP-BC, is a pediatric nurse practitioner with over 20 years of experience in clinical practice, health policy and advocacy with a focus on primary care, child and adolescent injury prevention, substance abuse prevention and government affairs.