A passion for policy: Influencing the future of nursing in health care

Mai Kung, a faculty member in the College of Nursing at Florida State. (FSU Photography Services)
Mai Kung, a faculty member in the College of Nursing at Florida State. (FSU Photography Services)

Nurses make up the largest segment of the nation’s health care workforce, yet their vital role on the front lines of patient care is not always fully realized or utilized.

Mai Kung, a faculty member at Florida State University’s College of Nursing since 2007, is seeking to change that through influencing and shaping health care policy to remove unnecessary government limitations on the nursing profession in order to improve patient care.

Kung was recently selected as one of eight participants nationally for the American Association of Colleges of Nursing’s 2015 Faculty Policy Intensive that will be held March 23-26 in Washington, D.C. She is the first faculty member from a university in the state of Florida to receive an invitation to FPI.

“I feel very honored to have this opportunity to network with and learn from key policy figures and nurses who are passionate about influencing policy,” Kung said. “This experience will enhance my ability to educate, motivate and empower students to lead initiatives and be full partners in redesigning health care policy in the United States.”

The intensive is a fully funded, four-day immersion program designed for faculty of AACN member schools who are interested in actively pursuing a role in health care and nursing policy.

An advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) for the past 25 years, Kung is on a mission to improve the profession — and ultimately health care — “through nursing unity and to remove outdated, unnecessary practice barriers placed on advanced practice nurses.”

Laws across the nation differ in allowing APRNs to practice to the full extent of their education and training. For example, Florida is the only state in the nation that does not allow APRNs to obtain a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) license. This license would enable APRNs to prescribe medications such as cough medicine with codeine.

“For years, I wanted to be the best nurse practitioner to take care of my patients, but after years of practice I realized no amount of education, training, experience or expertise could help me take care of my patients unless I have the legitimate authority to practice,” Kung said.

It was those limits on her scope of practice that inspired Kung to become an advocate for the profession — and improved patient care. She regularly testifies before the Florida Legislature and organizes and participates in grassroots efforts to educate the public on health care issues.

Several issues that Kung supports were included in the Institute of Medicine’s 2010 Future of Nursing Report —a brief by a multidisciplinary team of experts, chaired by former United States Secretary of Health and Human ServicesDonna Shalala that looked at direction of the nursing profession and how nurses can improve health care.

The report recommended expanding nurses’ roles and responsibilities and bolstering their education in order to meet the increased demand for care and the objectives outlined in the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

“We’re not trying to take the jobs of physicians, but there are not enough around, especially primary care physicians,” Kung said. “Patients need care and someone has to be there to provide this care. APRNs are in a position to provide access to high quality, cost-effective care and fill the gaps.”

Kung believes the giving consumers a choice — whether to see nurse practitioners, physicians or specialists — will make the health care system better for everyone.

“There are so many barriers and every layer we add in the system costs more money and slows down patients getting timely access to health care,” Kung said.

Kung incorporates policy into every course she teaches at Florida State — undergraduate or graduate. She encourages nursing students to engage in shaping policy as early as possible by making it relevant to them, whether they are contacting legislators, testifying before committee hearings or being active in professional organizations.

“We’re immersed in it, but we don’t even realize how it affects us,” Kung said. “Nurses must see policy as something they can shape, rather than something that happens to them. I want to educate nurses and empower them so they feel like they have a voice.”

Simona Devenish, a graduate student in the College of Nursing’s Doctor of Nursing Practice Program, took Kung’s policy course last fall. As an assignment for the class, students wrote op-ed pieces and Kung encouraged them to get them published. Devenish’s op-ed appeared in the Sun Sentinel newspaper.

“When she was talking about policy, she actually started to cry,” Devenish said. “Dr. Kung was so passionate about the subject —that was what inspired me to learn more about policy. It made me more aware, and I think more nurses need to be aware of the policies placed upon us because it affects how we take care of patients as a whole.”

Kung anticipates her participation in the AACN Faculty Policy Intensive will enhance her policy courses and provide up-to-date relevant information, as well as validate the necessity of teaching students the importance of becoming actively involved with shaping policy.

At the conclusion of the program, Kung, who holds a doctoral degree in nursing practice, will be an AACN Policy Fellow and added to the organization’s network of policy experts.

“I am very familiar with Dr. Kung’s expertise, her academic work, her leadership and her passion for policy to advance the nursing profession and to improve patient care,” said Judith McFetridge-Durdle, dean of the College of Nursing. “She is an excellent teacher, a knowledgeable family nurse practitioner, and a leader who is passionate about health policy and an excellent advocate for the nursing profession.”

The program offers participants the opportunity to enhance existing knowledge of policy and advocacy through sessions that will strengthen understanding of the legislative process and the dynamic relationships between federal departments and agencies, national nursing organizations and the individual advocate.

“AACN is delighted to welcome the 2015 cohort of academic policy leaders in March,” said Deborah Trautman, chief executive officer of AACN. “The policy expertise our faculty members bring to national dialogues is paramount to the success of meaningful health reform.”