Nurses are heroes. From caring for newborn babies to comforting the elderly, nurses are involved in every part of the healthcare system and every stage of life. They are present in patients’ darkest valleys and in their brightest moments. Without the care, expertise, knowledge of well-trained nurses, our healthcare system simply could not function.
Each May, we honor the dedication and sacrifices of these healthcare heroes during national Nurses Week. This annual seven-day celebration, which started on May 6th, is the culmination of more than fifty years of work by healthcare administrators, politicians, and community volunteers to formally express gratitude for the lifesaving care nurses provide patients with everyday.
In the United States, nurses represent the largest single group of healthcare providers with more than three million registered nurses providing care. Nurse practitioners account for twenty percent of all primary caregivers.
Considering the profound impact that nurses have on our healthcare system, is one week each year enough to say “thank you?” As a healthcare professional with 40 years of experience, I don’t think it is. The truth is that when we give back to nurses by helping them develop and hone their professional skills, we raise up our entire community and improve the healthcare system overall.
In 2012, I helped found the Alabama Health Action Coalition (AL-HAC) whose mission is to improve the health of Alabamians through nursing and collaborative practice. The rural nature of our state combined with the shortage of healthcare professionals leaves many areas of Alabama with out access to proper care. AL-HAC believes that nurses collaborating with other healthcare professionals and stakeholders will help solve both of these issues through two simple initiatives.
First, AL-HAC is working with state higher education and two-year institutions to encourage nurses to continually increase their education. We believe that healthcare will be improved when nurses take this step. The goal, recommended in the Institute of Medicine’s report Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, is to increase the percentage of BSN or higher prepared nurses to 80% by the year 2020. This is needed to keep up with the ever-changing healthcare environment and the emerging additions to the role of nurses.
Secondly, we believe that nurses should be able to practice to the full extent of their training. Nurses are experts in patient care, and unnecessary, outdated restrictions that prevent nurses from providing proper care should be altered. This doesn’t mean that nurses will become doctors. It simply means that policies governing how nurses treat patients should be consistent with the extent of their education.
Together, these two initiatives will improve Alabama’s overall healthcare experience for both patients and providers. By investing in opportunities for continuing education and removing outdated practice restrictions, our nurses will be able to provide first-class, patient-centered treatment; increase the standard of care; and save more lives. If you would like show your appreciation for nurses by supporting AL-HAC’s mission, visit alabamahealthactioncoalition.org.
But most importantly, take a moment to thank a nurse for the selfless work he or she does. You have until May 12th – the founder of modern medicine Florence Nightingale’s birthday – to display your appreciation.