On National Nurses Day: A Charge for the Future

May 6, 2019
On National Nurses Day, healthcare delivery system leaders need to be cognizant of the critical role that nurses will play in creating the new, value-based healthcare—across a vast range of professional environments

Today, on National Nurses Day, the praise is pouring in for nurses across the U.S.—as well it should. From practicing physicians to nurse executives, to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Veterans Administration (VA) Health Care, laudatory messages have been flying across social media.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tweeted, “For all the long nights and hard days, CDC thanks you for protecting your patients and saving lives with #vaccination.”

The U.S. Department of Defense tweeted, “Nurses are protectors, leaders, and superheroes. We honor them on this National #Nurses Day and join @MilitaryHealth in celebrating #NursesWeek.”

And CMS Administrator Seema Verma wrote, “Thank you to the millions of nurses across our country for their continuous dedication to the care of America’s patients!”

Meanwhile, Leigh Spann, a meteorologist at WFLA in Tampa, created a meme (see illustration) that said, “A nurse is basically a superhero in scrubs”—very true.

And I particularly enjoyed this very candid, blunt tweet from Peter Grinspoon, M.D., a physician who describes himself as “the author of the memoir Free Refills: A Doctor Confronts His Addiction,” and who “currently practices as a primary care physician at an inner-city clinic in Boston and is on staff at Massachusetts General Hospital,” and who teaches medicine at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Greenspan tweeted this: “Huge THANK YOU to all the #nurses I work with who are awesome, who put up with same crap as doctors do with—if possible—even less support and respect, and who do so with compassion, humor and vast competence! Nurses are the foundation of healthcare.”

Still, with all of this praise, what is the situation on the ground actually like right now? In reporting today on the results of a survey just released by The BDO Center for Healthcare Excellence & Innovation and the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, Healthcare Innovation Managing Editor Rajiv Leventhal, who noted in his report that “[M]ost of these healthcare leaders have not elevated nurses to the leadership levels that are needed to fully transform care, according to the researchers. Just 31 percent of clinical leaders today have a designated nursing leader whose primary responsibility is innovation, and less than half (46 percent) of business leaders say their C-suite includes someone with a nursing background,” Leventhal noted that the survey had found.

Still, Leventhal wrote, all that is expected to change in the next six years. As he noted, “By 2025, both sides of the industry signal that they’re taking steps to fully unleash nurse innovators at the leadership level. More than three-fourths (81 percent) of clinical leaders say investing in placing nurses as decision-makers on all strategic planning teams will be very important for health organizations. And more than half (57 percent) of business leaders say advanced leadership is a skill they’ll view as very important to nurse innovators within their organization.”

And he quoted Antonia M. Villarruel, Ph.D., R.N., Margaret Bond Simon Dean of Nursing at the University of Pennsylvania, who had said in a prepared statement released with the BDOC Center/Penn Nursing survey, that “Health stakeholders’ ability to thrive amid the new consumer-driven health system depends on nurses claiming a seat at the table at the leadership level. If true care transformation is to take shape to improve patient outcomes at lower costs, health systems and businesses must recognize that nursing can and must extend well beyond the bedside and community—and into the boardroom,” Dr. Villarruel stated.

Bingo. Dr. Villarruel has hit on the precise point that everyone should be focusing on going forward. Of course we are all deeply grateful for everything that nurses have done and continue to do, day in and day out, in healthcare. But what the leaders of pioneering patient care organizations know, is this: everything about the new healthcare speaks to nurses, not only as frontline caregivers, but especially as care managers and as patient care executives. Population health management literally cannot succeed without the growing army of nurse case managers and care managers who are being pressed into service in order to transform care delivery in accountable care and value-based care environments.

Nurses will also be absolutely critical to the delivery system moving forward, in their roles as nurse informaticists. Indeed, we wouldn’t even have gotten as far as we have, without the nurse informaticists, who already have been working hand in hand with physician informaticists and with non-clinician informaticists and data analysts and data scientists, to perform the vital functions of population health risk assessment, care management development, and analytics processes to support continuous clinical performance improvement.

So as vital as the engagement of physicians will be, in order for our healthcare delivery system to shift into a value-based environment, no one should doubt for a moment that nurses will be equally important helping us to get to the healthcare Promised Land. And on this National Nurses Day, it is the promise of nurses as pioneering leaders in the journey into the new healthcare, that I am thinking about as much as the tremendous contributions they’ve already made, on this National Nurses Day. Nurses will be on the frontlines in building the new healthcare—and need to be honored and encouraged now, for everything they’ve done, as they stop for a nanosecond to be honored, even as they’re already hurtling into the future with all the other pioneering leaders in our vitally important industry. Nurses now, nurses to be: we need their leadership more than ever.

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