Groups sees nursing as solution to health system woes

A group of top healthcare experts on Tuesday urged a greater role for nurses as the country grapples with ways to improve its troubled healthcare system.

The sheer number of nurses, combined with their direct proximity to patients, makes them particularly suited to advance strategies for improving care and saving money, according to a new report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's (RWJF) committee on the Future of Nursing, a collaboration with the Institute of Medicine (IOM).

"Transforming the nursing profession is a crucial element to achieving the nation's vision of an effective, affordable health care system that is accessible and responsive to all," Linda Burnes Bolten, the committee vice chair and chief nursing officer at L.A.'s Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said in a statement.

Among the committee's recommendations:

• Nurses should be freed to use their training to the fullest extent. 

"A variety of historical, regulatory, and policy barriers have limited nurses’ ability to generate widespread transformation," the report reads. "Regulatory barriers are particularly problematic." 

• Medical education systems should be improved to encourage nurses to advance their training. 

"One step in realizing this goal is for a greater number of nurses to enter the workforce with a baccalaureate degree or progress to this degree early in their career," the committee suggests. "Moreover, to alleviate shortages of nurse faculty, primary care providers, and researchers, a cadre of qualified nurses needs to be ready to advance to the master’s and doctoral levels."

•  Nurses should position themselves as "full partners," along with doctors and other providers, in the effort to improve the healthcare system. 

"Being a full partner involves taking responsibility for identifying problems and areas of waste, devising and implementing a plan for improvement, tracking improvement over time, and making necessary adjustments to realize established goals," the report notes.

• Improving the system will require better data collection.

"Planning for fundamental, wide-ranging changes in the education and deployment of the nursing workforce will require comprehensive data on the numbers and types of nurses currently available and required to meet future needs," the authors write.

The recommendations, said committee chair Donna Shalala, former head of the Health and Human Services Department, "provide a strong foundation for the development of a nursing work force whose members are well-educated and prepared to practice to the fullest extent of their training, meet the current and future needs of patients, and act as full partners in leading advances in the nation's health care system."   

Two statistics make nurses singularly qualified to advance the discussion about healthcare improvement, the committee said: Their numbers (more than 3 million) make them the largest segment of the healthcare workforce. And they spend more time caring directly for patients than any other group. 

The Future of Nursing committee has scheduled a two-day national conference beginning Nov. 30 to examine ways to implement the recommendations found in the report.