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The Future of Nursing is Up for Debate

Rebecca Hendren, for HealthLeaders Media, October 20, 2009

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It's not very often that one gets a chance to contribute to a nationwide public debate that just might result in changes to your profession. But that's what the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, in collaboration with the Institute of Medicine, is calling for as part of a major study on the future of nursing. As well as securing the opinion of nursing experts from around the country, the study will also be examining testimony submitted from individuals and organizations in the field.

"In a reformed healthcare delivery system, what would be the future role of nursing?" asks Linda Burnes Bolton, Dr.PH, RN, FAAN, vice president for nursing, chief nursing officer, and director of nursing research at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. "That's our charge, so we're looking at acute care, community health, school health, public health, and what we need to reform the education system."

Burnes Bolton is the vice chair of the new Initiative on the Future of Nursing, which was launched earlier this year with a goal of producing a report in 2010 detailing how nursing should evolve so it can meet the demands of an ever-changing health system. The committee is spending the next few months examining evidence from around the country, debating and reviewing that evidence, and then coming up with a blueprint for change. They plan to make broad recommendations about the delivery of nursing services, changes to public and institutional policies, and even ways to solve the nursing shortage.

The committee is officially charged with examining the following areas:

  • Reconceptualizing the role of nurses
  • Expanding nursing faculty, increasing the capacity of nursing schools, and redesigning nursing education
  • Care delivery and health professional education
  • Attracting and retaining well-prepared nurses

As part of the committee's evidence collection, Burnes Bolton says they are actively seeking public testimony—including innovations/models and barriers/opportunities—from around the country. Some of the most interesting testimony will become part of the debate at three national forums on the future of nursing, the first of which was held yesterday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Yesterday's program concerned the topics of quality and safety, technology, and interdisciplinary collaboration. Marilyn Chow, DNSc, RN, FAAN, vice president, patient care services, program office, at Kaiser Permanente, program director for the RWJF Executive Nurse Fellows Program, and presenter at the first forum, says she hopes the forums provide an opportunity to think about issues in a different way.

"The problem is that nurses are misused and underutilized" in the current system, says Chow. She adds that as information and knowledge grows at warp speed, the acute care environment will be shaped by the intersection of technology, business models, and human needs. As such, now is the time to design new models to meet the needs of the future.

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