For the first time in history, nurse practitioners are working to influence U.S. health policy. Mary Beth Bigley, Ph.D., MSN, ANP, and Catherine Wisner, Ph.D., FNP, nurse practitioners (NPs) and recipients of the Nurse Practitioner Healthcare Foundation's (NPHF) Health Fellowship grants, are completing their second year in the Office of the Surgeon General (OSG), helping to provide the best evidence-based science as a reference for public health programs.
"These fellows have demonstrated the importance of bringing the nursing perspective to the forefront of public health discussions," says acting Surgeon General Steven K. Galson, MD, MPH, a rear admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service.
As the first-ever nurse practitioner fellows in the OSG, Bigley and Wisner have provided leadership in critical areas of public health. "Our holistic view of health care—acknowledging the importance of prevention and social issues in addition to clinical interventions—make us especially effective health care providers," says Wisner.
Preventing childhood obesity is a top priority for the OSG and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Bigley serves as a key leader for the Healthy Youth for a Healthy Future initiative which HHS launched in November 2007 to bring attention to the nearly 34 percent of children and teens in America who are either overweight or at risk of becoming overweight. Bigley also helps coordinate the Surgeon General's HHS interagency council to improve current childhood obesity programs and campaigns, including the design and implementation of the Healthy Youth for a Healthy Future Web page and outreach tour.
As part of this program, the Acting Surgeon General is conducting a nationwide outreach tour, recognizing city officials and local organizations that are taking aggressive action to end childhood obesity. "Overweight children have a higher risk of being overweight adults and face the possibility of serious and chronic health problems," says Galson. "It's an important public health issue, and prevention is vital."
Building Health Communication and Health Literacy
In addition to addressing specific public health issues like childhood obesity, Bigley and Wisner are focusing on expanding health communication, recognizing it as a challenge and an opportunity to incorporate the nursing point of view.
"The overarching issues affecting public health today are prevention, quality of care and access," says Bigley. "All clinicians and health care systems need to communicate more efficiently and effectively to achieve positive health outcomes and understand the importance and value of health information technology."
After completing their fellowships this year, Wisner and Bigley plan to work in collaboration with the NPHF to help nurse practitioners become proactive about public health issues and more effective in influencing policy on the local, state and federal levels. For the NPHF, the Health Fellowship has created an opportunity for nursing to influence public health policy and improve health communication and literacy.
Source: Nurse Practitioners Healthcare Foundation