Every aspect of healthcare in the U.S. is changing, and it is changing rapidly. The Affordable Care Act added millions of previously uninsured people to the system. The aging Baby Boomer population is living longer and seeking treatment for chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes. These changes affect the delivery of healthcare and who pays for it. Medicare pays more as the population ages, and private insurance companies struggle to keep up with their new patients — patients who may have more medical issues than average because they could not seek treatment before they got coverage.
Patient as Consumer
Deductibles are increasing, meaning patients are covering more of their healthcare costs. When patients have to pay, they want a choice. Healthcare facilities have to market like never before and provide consumers with a superior experience. Patients are more like consumers, looking for a great deal on the best care.
These financial concerns go beyond healthcare administrators. Nurses, in fact, may have the biggest role to play in the new healthcare landscape. They spend more time with patients than any other provider, which makes them responsible for patient satisfaction. They are also primarily responsible for patient care, so they must keep up with new technologies and procedures. Nurses and nurse practitioners are often the sole providers of healthcare particularly in rural and underserved areas.
Nursing education has expanded their curriculum to include content on health policy in order to provide nurses with the skills necessary to influence healthcare policies within hospital and clinical settings as well at the local, state and federal levels.
Nurses to the Rescue!
In 2010, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) issued The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, a report with eight recommendations to improve nursing and the healthcare system at large. (As of 2015, the Institute of Medicine is known as the National Academy of Medicine [NAM].) Four of these eight recommendations directly relate to working RNs, particularly those with associate degrees who are considering going back to school to earn a BSN — and those already in bachelor’s programs.
The Second Recommendation: “Expand opportunities for nurses to lead and diffuse collaborative improvement efforts.”
It is essential that nurses collaborate with physicians, administrators and other healthcare leaders as equals. Because nurses spend much of their time at the bedside — much more than physicians and other leaders — they have insights into patient care that others may lack. This is why one of their expanded roles should be in research and design. Nurses know exactly where the rubber meets the road — where the science meets the patient. At the bedside. It only makes sense that nurses should be a part of the planning process.
Nurses often act as liaisons between patients and doctors, administrators and other leaders, which gives them a macro view of the healthcare system. This puts them in a unique position to be a part of positive change. For these changes to occur, people in healthcare administration, finance and nursing education (to name a few) need to concentrate their efforts on making room at the table for nurses.
How are nurses going to succeed in these new positions? Nursing programs must modify their curricula to prepare their students. The online RN to BSN program at the University of New Mexico offers many courses that teach students to support the IOM’s second recommendation. Leadership and Management; Health Policy, Economics, and Systems; Advancement of Professional Nursing; and Research and Evidence-Based Practice are just a few examples of the classes the University of New Mexico offers.
Recommendation 4 of 8: “Increase the proportion of nurses with baccalaureate degree to 80 percent by 2020.”
In 2013, Fineberg and Lavizzo-Mourey (Presidents of the IOM and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, respectively) published The Future of Nursing: A Look Back at the Landmark IOM Report. They reiterate the reasons for change and the part nurses will play, saying, “In light of the tremendous need for nurses in health care today and in the future — due to the growing numbers of people with chronic diseases, an aging population, and the need for care coordination — the report provided a blueprint for how to transform the nursing profession.” Part of that blueprint includes the need for more BSN-prepared nurses and the knowledge that comes with the credential.
According to the IOM report, “Academic nurse leaders across all schools of nursing should work together to increase the proportion of nurses from 50 to 80 percent by 2020.” One important way that nurse educators can do this is by connecting with employers, accrediting bodies and those who finance educational enterprises to ensure nursing students have the funding they need to pursue a bachelor’s degree. Some of the ways to do this are as follows:
- Seek out grants and scholarships.
- Promote private and public funding for RN to BSN programs.
- Encourage healthcare employers to offer tuition reimbursement and other benefits.
- Monitor progress and success of funding activities.
Recommendation Four also states that nurses should be familiar with diverse demographics. Encouraging nurses of diverse backgrounds is one way to bridge the gap between patients and the overall healthcare system. The University of New Mexico offers the courses Care of Vulnerable Populations and Nursing in the Community to give students the knowledge they need to achieve these goals.
Recommendation 6 of 8: “Ensure that nurses engage in lifelong learning.”
Lifelong learning is critical in healthcare. Advances in technology and medical procedures arise almost daily, and nurses need to know how to leverage these advances for improved patient outcomes. This includes experienced nurses, who can get the education and training they need by attending lectures, taking continuing education classes and staying up-to-date with the latest research. Another way for an RN with an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) to gain more advanced knowledge is to pursue a BSN degree.
Healthcare employers can offer incentives to nurses who learn more about the advances in patient care. Nursing associations are also critical to success, as they can offer seminars and keep their members updated with literature on various aspects of patient care.
Recommendation 7 of 8: “Prepare and enable nurses to lead change to advance health.”
Like the other recommendations in the IOM report, this responsibility largely falls to nursing schools and associations, healthcare administration, and policymakers. Nurses spend most of their time with patients — far more than physicians or hospital administrators. As such, they know exactly what patients need and, often, what policies can improve patient care. The online RN to BSN program at the University of New Mexico encourages students to learn the communication skills and leadership techniques they need for collaborative planning with doctors and administrators.
When nurses have the policies in place to help their patients, satisfaction improves — as does their health. Nurses also know where waste occurs and where resources are lacking.
Nurses with associate degrees who want to be change agents in their profession should consider the online RN to BSN program at the University of New Mexico. This online program is ideal for working ADNs. Because the course schedules are flexible — and students can complete coursework from anywhere — nurses can keep their jobs while they learn what they need to stay competitive in the ever-changing healthcare system. Nurses who enter an RN to BSN program are well on their way to making the IOM’s recommendations a reality.
Learn more about the UNM online RN to BSN program.Â
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Fineberg, H., & Lavizzo-Mourey, R. (n.d.). The Future of Nursing: A Look Back at the Landmark IOM Report. ENA.org
The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health. (2011). National Academics Press
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