December 03, 2015

Lawmaker encourages nursing students to have a voice in shaping healthcare policy

Minnesota State Representative Erin Murphy MAOL’05 issued this clarion call to St. Catherine University's Master of Nurse Practitioner candidates: engage in advocacy and public policy.

“Your power rests in building a relationship with your state representative and your state senator. Even if you don’t agree with them politically, your voice as a subject matter expert carries a lot of weight,” says Murphy. She spoke Wednesday evening at the annual Nurse Practitioner Preceptor Appreciation event.

Originally a registered nurse by trade, Murphy left clinical practice to put her political acumen to work as the Executive Director of the Minnesota Nurses Association. She was hired on the condition that she'd complete an advanced degree, and ended up in St. Kate's Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership program.

"St. Kate’s was a place I could call home, a place where I could grow my leadership skills and place that recognizes the importance of women in leadership," Murphy says.

The “nursing approach” to lawmaking

She later ran for office as State Representative for District 64A, where she’s currently serving her 5th term. She also teaches "Health Care: Power, Policy and Politics" in St. Kate's Doctor of Nursing Practice program.

Murphy attributes her success in politics to the “nursing approach” she takes: listen and gather information to diagnose the problem, then act to solve it.

“Nurses don’t have the luxury of saying I’m going to wait two years to solve the problem you have — which is sometimes what happens in politics. So I brought that nursing discipline about solving problems with me into politics. Even if you don’t have the best solution in front of you, you need to make a decision,” she says.

She shared stories of political victories — like expanding the definition of primary care to include advanced practice nurses and physician assistants — and political pitfalls in her work at the Minnesota State Legislature.

One such early pitfall was failure to pass legislation granting practice authority for Minnesota’s Advance Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs), and Murphy discovered that sheer political will or muscle isn’t enough in itself.

“I learned a valuable lesson about importance of coalition-building. You can have the votes to get something done in committee, but if you don’t have the community support to pass it through the legislature, it will get undone really quickly,” she explains.

A political colleague of Murphy’s (and St. Kate’s nursing alumna), Mary Chesney ’75 stepped forward after the legislation failed. With Murphy’s help, Chesney took six years to build a statewide coalition of advanced practice nurses who banded together to form a united policy front, and met with their legislators to share expertise and perspective.

In 2014, legislation was successfully enacted that gave full practice authority for Minnesota's APRNs. This legislation increases Minnesotan's access to health care by removing barriers that prevented APRNs from practicing to the fullest extent of their education and scope of practice.

“The nurses had really done their work, and it was a marvelous thing to see. Physicians may have a lot of power, but we have power too,” says Murphy. “So if you leave tonight with anything, I hope that you will walk away with the understanding that you can make a difference and advance the goal of a healthier population by participating in our political process.”

Final projects

During last night’s events, nurse practitioner students also presented posters of their final project, which involve a case study of an actual patient cared for during their clinical education. The case studies tend to involve complex health problems, or comorbidity (two or more conditions).

Projects topics ranged from fetal alcohol syndrome and juvenile arthritis among pediatric patients, to congestive heart failure, dementia and cancer among gerontology patients.

The annual preceptor event acknowledges the work of dozens of clinical educators who devote time to St. Kate’s nurse practitioner students. Each student in the master of nurse practitioner program must complete 600 hours of advanced clinical practice experience. Later this month, 43 students will graduate from this program.


Related content:

"Call of Duty: Healthcare employers willing to share their time and expertise with students are shaping tomorrow's healers and caregivers," St. Catherine University Magazine, February 2014

By Sharon Rolenc