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Nurses Have Potential to Transform Healthcare System, Says RWJF Report

Analysis  |  By Michelle Clarke  
   March 20, 2019

Nurses are in a unique position to coordinate partnerships and provide the kind of patient-centered care needed to address the health issues of the 21st century.

A new report, "Activating Nursing to Address Unmet Need in the 21st Century," released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation  how nurses can increase their contributions to improving patient health in the 21st century.

Healthcare leaders find themselves in a unique situation as traditional medical care may not be enough to address increasing health problems, specifically those that are often referred to as “diseases of despair.” These diseases or health issues are both physiologic and socio-economic/emotionally based, and include issues such as substance abuse, mental health, maternal mortality, and low birth weight.

"There is growing recognition that medical care alone is insufficient to address growing health problems of today's world," said Patricia Pittman, PhD, the author of the report and co-director of the George Washington University Health Workforce Institute, said in a release. "Nurses are uniquely positioned to coordinate partnerships and provide the kind of holistic, patient-centered care that can address the current rise in substance abuse and other diseases of despair."

Related: Your Nurses Can Fix Your Hospital

Pittman identifies four areas employers and policymakers should consider in to expedite expanding opportunities for nurses to change where and how they practice.

1. Core functions of nursing need to be strengthened regardless of where nurses work

Once these have been identified and strengthened, nurses should be able to determine which tasks can be given to other team members, freeing them to focus on high priority issues. Functions include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Extending compassion and trust with patients, their families, and communities.
  • Assessing the unmet needs of patients, families, and communities.
  • Building partnerships within and outside healthcare to find solutions to issues.

2. Work at the intersection of other disciplines or professions

The report authors suggest that by working at the intersections of discipline, or working with groups that aren't necessarily connected, innovation for nurses is greater than if they work within pre-set boundaries.

3. Aligning nursing education with the core functions

Right now, nurses have a basic understanding of population health but might be unprepared to conduct population assessments, according to the report.  Nursing education needs to have a stronger focus on population health, health equity, as well as programs to ensure diversity within the nursing workforce.

4. Practice and policy

Employers, educators and policymakers should be willing to work with nurse leaders to create jobs with roles that build trust, establish partnerships and provide care that can help patients, families, and the entire community stay healthy.

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