Nurses: Your Patient Is America

Laura A. Stokowski, RN, MS


April 09, 2014

In This Article

Nurses Advocating for Health

One thing I learned from attending the briefing on The National Nurse Act of 2013 was that this isn't really a "nursing" bill. It isn't about the health or workplace issues of nurses. It's not about nursing practice or professional concerns. This bill is about the health of all people who live in this country. The connection to nursing is that nurses have always advocated for their patients' health, but we have done so either as individual nurses advocating for the patients under our care, or perhaps as members of a specialty nursing society, advocating with our peers as a group for the health of children, surgical patients, people with cancer, or the elderly. Having a National Nurse for Public Health, I realized, takes what we do as nurses -- advocating for patients -- to the next level. It is an opportunity to unite nurses from all specialties for a common purpose.

Nurses taking a lead role in advocating for health and the prevention of disease is not a new idea. In fact, the recent Institute of Medicine report The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health[5] strongly promoted the idea that nurses need to step into the arena of health advocacy:

To be seen and accepted as leaders, nurses must see policy as something they can shape and develop rather than something that happens to them, whether at the local organizational level or the national level. They must speak the language of policy and engage in the political process effectively, and work cohesively as a profession. Nurses should have a voice in health policy decision making, as well as being engaged in implementation efforts related to health care reform. Nurses also should serve actively on advisory committees, commissions, and boards where policy decisions are made to advance health systems to improve patient care. Nurses must build new partnerships with other clinicians, business owners, philanthropists, elected officials, and the public to help realize these improvements.

Calls for nurses to assume leadership roles in our rapidly evolving healthcare delivery systems, particularly in the prevention of disease and poor health outcomes, have been heard with increasing frequency.[6,7] A Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-commissioned poll[8] of thought leaders from insurance, corporate, health services, government, industry, and academia found that an overwhelming majority of these leaders say that nurses should have more influence in many areas, including reducing medical errors, increasing the quality of care, promoting wellness, improving efficiency, and reducing costs, and a clear majority say that nurses should have more influence than they do now on health policy, planning and management.

Many prominent nurse leaders also have spoken out[9] on this imperative, such as American Nurses Association President Karen A. Daley, PhD, MPH, RN, FAAN, who said, "If we are indeed successful with health care reform, the model of care delivery will not be based on the disease process, but on disease prevention and health promotion." Linda Burnes Bolton, DrPH, RN, FAAN, Vice President for Nursing at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said, "And if nurses are allowed to lead, they will come up with innovative ways to bring up health care and make the world a better place." Rosa Gonzalez-Guarda, PhD, MPH, RN, CPH, Assistant Professor of Nursing at the University of Miami School of Nursing & Health Studies, added, "Nurses have a unique understanding of the health care process because they are on the front lines. And this knowledge translates into health care quality and cost-savings."


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