Do I Need Experience in Healthcare to work on Health Policy?

Health policy is the body of information generated by researchers, policy analysts, policy makers and other stakeholders to achieve specified goals pertaining to the health care needs and concerns of the community. It is an outline of long-term goals that serve to define short and medium term waypoints to keep programs on track for successful completion. Health policies may assign tasks to individuals or groups, define the metrics by which success is measured, prioritizes tasks and facilitates consensus among all parties involved. Policymakers and analysts are typically well-versed in health care issues and practices gained from years of experience managing issues relevant to community organizations, health policies and community development.

Resource: Top 20 Online Health Policy Master’s Degree Programs 2017-2018

Ideal Background for a Career in Health Policymaking

Health care is a sprawling, complicated and even controversial topic. Understanding the underlying issues to common health challenges such as support or resistance to community vaccination programs requires knowledge of the cultural, economic and socio-political aspects. Health care professionals may develop an instinctive understanding of these issues when they work directly with patients or clients for many years. The knowledge may come from anecdotal evidence and personal interviews as they interact with clients.

Many of the frontline jobs that provide opportunities to work directly with clients to service or resolve their health care needs require completion of an associate or bachelor’s degree in the health sciences. Licensing and advance credentialing ensures that that standards of competency with regards to delivering solutions to health care needs are upheld at all times. This, however, is not the only path to becoming a policymaker for healthcare.

Alternative Pathways to Becoming a Health Policymaker

Experience in health care is certainly helpful if you are eyeing a position as a health policy maker, but it is not the only approach. You should examine the skills and experience that you already have and determine how your core competencies can be helpful in a supportive role in crafting health policies.

  • Law – Policymakers should be cognizant of the legal framework that form part of the foundation for public policy. A background in law is helpful if you want to be part of a policy-making team.
  • Research – Research and research analysis are key skills that a policy making should have to create relevant policies. Policy-making begins with research. If you have not been involved with any health research projects, you would still have the analytical skills to help with research design, implementation and report preparation that would be useful for the team.
  • Management – Management and leadership skills are useful in any setting. If you have supervised and coordinated think tank projects especially one that involved various groups with disparate interests, your skills as coordinator, administrator and peace-maker will go a long way in building consensus and getting the job done on a policy-making team.
  • Community Work – A background in grassroots organizations and community building will also be helpful in this career. Creating policy is only one side of the equation. Implementing and evaluating efficacy is the crucial second phase, and your background in community work will be helpful on this aspect. In this phase, you can play the role of community liaison, information officer and feedback coordinator.

Similar to other functions, creating health policy is a team effort where members bring their own strengths and skills to the table. Even without a health care background, you can still break into this field where you will soon be immersed in the complexities of both policy making and health issues.