Educating DNP Nursing Students about Power, Policy, and Politics

Former MN Judge Sheryl Ramstad, JD, DNP, RN, Minn. Senator Erin Murphy MAOL'05, and Associate Professor Susan Hageness, DNP, RN, CNE, AHN-BC, teach students to be nurse-leaders in policymaking arenas
Two side-by-side headshots of former Minnesota judge Sheryl Ramstad, JD, DNP, RN, and Minnesota State Senator Erin Murphy MAOL’05

St. Kate’s Doctor of Nurse Practice (DNP) students traded hearing rooms for headsets this year for the mock hearing portion of their “Healthcare: Power, Policy, and Politics” class. Normally gathered in the Minnesota State Capitol building, faculty and students met on a video conference call — a first in the course’s 12-year history.

Even at a distance, the students were excited about class. For these future nurse-leaders, this course addresses the complexity of national and global healthcare systems, focusing on interprofessional, cross-cultural, and advanced technological issues that converge to impact the daily practice of all healthcare providers. “DNPs are nurse leaders who must lead and influence not only at the bedside, but also in the community and policymaking arenas. They need to advocate for those who cannot do so for themselves,” says course instructor and Associate Professor of nursing Susan Hageness, DNP, RN, CNE, AHN-BC.

The adjunct faculty members who co-teach this course with Hageness add important perspectives to the students’ education. Minnesota State Senator Erin Murphy MAOL’05 and former Minnesota judge Sheryl Ramstad, JD, DNP, RN, are both registered nurses with long histories of serving in the Minnesota political arena. Murphy — who has taught this course with Hageness since its inception in 2010 — was sworn in to her first term as a Minnesota state senator for District 64 in January, after serving in the Minnesota House of Representatives for over 12 years. Ramstad’s prestigious career in law and public service includes serving as the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Corrections from 1999–2002 and as a Minnesota state court judge from 2002– 2012. This is Ramstad’s second year teaching the course. As Hageness shares, “Having a sitting state senator teach our students adds rich perspective on policymaking and politics. When Sheryl joined the course last year, her judiciary experience and leadership in the healthcare policy arena expanded our insights and discussions.”

In a video conference format, DNP students Kendra-Ann Sookdeo (left) and Greg Veenendaal (right) participate in the virtual mock hearing for "Healthcare: Power, Policy, and Politics" class.

The mock hearing portion of the course is the students’ introduction to the curriculum. They act as expert testifiers and legislators to discuss contemporary political issues. This year, the students, like Kendra-Ann Sookdeo DNP'21, MAHS'21, and Greg Veenendaal DNP'21 (pictured), presented and discussed two policy issues: “Should Minnesota end the prohibition on recreational cannabis?” and “Should Minnesota require COVID-19 vaccinations be mandatory?” Students were assigned pro and con positions, regardless of their personal opinions on the topics. The testifiers presented evidence to support their position, with arguments ranging from public health, societal well-being, physical health, and technology, to name a few. The legislators would then ask the testifiers poignant questions to further understand their expert opinion. “This exercise shows the complexity of policy issues. Divergent arguments are held as truths, and legislators have to listen to both sides to get to a conclusion,” says Murphy.

At the end, Murphy and Ramstad provided a debrief and commentary. The class discussed the finer points of delivering testimony, as well as the responsibility of making decisions in the best interest of the people you represent, rather than one’s own personal beliefs. “As nurses, we provide our patients with the best information we have, and then honor the patient’s choices. We have to separate our personal values, and respect the position and values of the people in our care. The work we do as nurses prepares us for work in public policy,” says Murphy.

Throughout the course, the curriculum emphasizes strategies for influencing change in healthcare policies, including consensus building, policymaking, lobbying, political activism, and methods for evaluating policy outcomes. In addition to exercises like the mock hearing, the course faculty educates students to engage in meaningful discourse with their healthcare peers, community members, and powerful legislators — like United States Congressman Dean Phillips from Minnesota’s 3rd congressional district, who will speak to the students during the March 13 class.

“The Institute of Medicine recognizes the importance of nurses playing leadership roles in improving the quality of healthcare, just as the American Association of Colleges of Nursing stresses that policy involvement should be addressed in all levels of nursing education, including at the baccalaureate, master's, and doctoral levels,” says Ramstad. “It has become apparent from teaching this course that once equipped with the tools needed to influence the political process, nurses feel empowered, more confident, and eager to provide their views to those in powerful positions.”

Learn more about St. Kate's Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degrees:

Nursing (DNP): Post-Master's
Nursing (DNP): Nurse Practitioner

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