Nurses and the Public Say It Is Time for Change

Teri A. Mills, MS, RN, ANP, CNE; Kindra T. Scanlon; Susan L. Sullivan, RN, PHN, MSN


Topics in Advanced Practice Nursing eJournal. 2008;8(3) 

In This Article

Office of the National Nurse

These statistics are staggering, but the trends can be changed with effective national leadership. The solution may be easier than initially thought. Currently there is a half-time Chief Nurse Officer (CNO) in the United States Public Health Service (USPHS). Leaders behind creating an Office of the National Nurse suggest that one cost-effective approach would be to strengthen the CNO position, resulting in higher visibility and authority. This idea appeals to those who have concerns about requesting new funding or replicating existing services.

The recommendation is simple: The existing CNO of the USPHS would become a full-time position within the Office of the Surgeon General and be given the title of National Nurse. This title change is necessary to provide the authority, impetus, and recognition needed to capture the public's attention, encourage prevention, and raise awareness of a national push for health promotion efforts.

At the local level, many specific interventions would be initiated and likely be guided by public health nurses and other staff of local public health jurisdictions. A recent letter written by the American Nurses Association (ANA) and signed by the Quad Council states, "A stronger and more visible CNO would better highlight the roles of nurses in public health, which could serve as a valuable recruitment tool".[8] The Quad Council of Public Health Nursing Organizations is an alliance of the 4 national nursing organizations concerned with public health nursing issues: the Association of Community Health Nurse Educators (ACHNE), the ANA's Congress on Nursing Practice and Economics, the American Public Health Association-Public Health Nursing Section (APHA), and the Association of State and Territorial Directors of Nursing (ASTDN).

Another component of the Office of the National Nurse initiative is dedicated to seeing that existing programs are strengthened, not diluted. It is recommended that the National Nurse promote volunteerism within existing frameworks, including the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC). MRC units are community-based and were developed following 9/11 to prepare and respond to emergencies and disasters. These units also work to supplement public health resources to promote healthy living throughout the year and have proven to be successful in working with vulnerable populations in which health disparities are more likely to exist.[9]

Numerous Gallup Polls have proven time and again that Americans trust nurses.[10] Messages delivered from a National Nurse and then reinforced by volunteer nurses in their own communities would address and confront key health issues such as chronic preventable diseases. An Office of the National Nurse will strengthen our country, our schools, and the health of our citizens, and will empower nurses and healthcare professionals to build a foundation for the future health of our nation. The National Nurse would serve as a valuable public resource, complementing the work of the Surgeon General to inform the public on preventive healthcare and health education.

The Massachusetts General Court, New York State Assembly, and Vermont State Legislature all unanimously passed resolutions introduced by nurse state legislators urging Congress to enact legislation for an Office of the National Nurse. Remarkably, not one cent was spent to achieve the passage of these bills. To provide some perspective, last year the ANA spent $979,489 in their lobbying efforts.[11] Dozens of national and state nursing organizations have also signed on their support. A complete list of endorsements can be found at The National Nurse Endorsements.

The ANA's Code of Ethics states, "The nurse participates in the advancement of the profession though contributions to practice, education, administration, and knowledge development".[12] What better way to focus on these key needs than to have an Office of the National Nurse work with Americans who want the best health possible for themselves and their families? After all, we have a Surgeon General. Now it's time for a counterpart: a National Nurse. Change is coming. Will nursing be ready?

For more information about this inspiring initiative and to learn how you can become involved, visit The National Nurse.

Editor's Note: What are your thoughts on the National Nurse initiative? Please link to our discussion and poll and share your ideas or comments.


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