Nurses enivision a growing role in tackling healthcare challenges

    As healthcare gets more complex and the American population ages, nurses must be prepared to play a growing role in providing care. That was one of the key findings in a report on the future of nursing published one year ago. Now, efforts are under way to put the reports recommendations into action.

    About 60 percent of US nurses have two-year degrees, typically from community colleges. Only 40 percent hold a Bachelor’s degree in nursing or better. Susan Hassmiller, who got her start at a community college, wants to change that. Now a PhD, she heads the “future of nursing, campaign for action.” Her job is to take the year-old Institute of Medicine recommendations and put them into practice. She says making sure the nursing force is better educated is job one.

    “It’s because of the complexity of care that we’re really being faced with in this country, nurses need a better education,” said Hassmiller. “It really has to do with new roles that are coming out, coordinated care, transitional care, chronic disease management coordination.”

    Hassmiller was speaking at a conference entitled “Nurses for Tomorrow” in Philadelphia. She says nurses with two-year degrees need encouragement and support to keep going. Hassmiller says more community colleges should offer four year degrees and hospitals should provide flexible work schedules for those wanting to return to school. She also says more scholarships would help.

    Well-trained nurses will shoulder the main burden of caring for America’s aging population, says Dr. Tara Cortes, executive director of the Hartfort Institute for Geriatrics in Connecticut.

    “Nurse practitioners can keep patients at high levels of wellness and can refer to physicians for complex co-morbidities,” said Cortes. “So the future is really in nursing, and using nursing appropriately to give that kind of care that is to specialized to older adults.”

    Cortes says using nurses to keep people healthy and at home as long as possible will be the only way to control the cost of caring for the country’s elderly. She says not enough nursing schools offer courses on caring for older patients. Given that the country is already facing a nursing shortage, Cortes adds that the need to build up a skilled workforce is dire.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.