Is the National Nurse Issue Really Stalled?

In the January, 2009 issue of the American Journal of Nursing (AJN), Roxane Nelson BSN, RN poses the question of whether or not the idea of a National Nurse for America has stalled. When Teri Mills an NP and nurse educator from Portland OR originally proposed the idea in May of 2005, she suggested the creation of an office of a National Nurse in her op-ed piece in The New York Times.

Over time the idea, as promoted by The National Nursing Network Organization (NNNO) chaired by Mills, has evolved to elevate and enhance the chief nurse officer who serves under the Surgeon General to the role of the National Nurse. This would utilize a position which already exists in the United States Public Health Service. The NNNO supports making it a full time position and to change the title to the “national nurse for prevention.”

Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA), herself an RN, introduced a bill (HR 4903 National Nurse Act of 2006) in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2006 to establish the Office of the National Nurse. The bill garnered 42 bipartisan supporters but was never passed.

Citing primarily financial reasons, the American Nurses Association (ANA) along with several other prominent U.S. nursing organizations have refused to back the idea stating the office already exists and further funding to enhance and elevate this position would be better used to promote other needs for nurses.

Mills and other founding members of the NNNO have argued that the benefits of elevating this role would far outweigh the costs of expanding this role. For instance, elevating the national nurse role to one of leadership in the task of patient education and disease prevention could help to reduce many of the skyrocketing costs of health care in this country. The staggering costs of chronic preventable diseases alone is bankrupting the system.

Without cost containment, solving the health care and health insurance crisis in this degrading economy could prove to be impossible. This would be just one benefit of having a National Nurse.

In addition, young people seeing a nurse in a primary leadership role in solving this health care crisis would have the benefit of recruiting many more young people into the nursing profession.

As we are all well aware, the nursing shortage is continuing to worsen and will hit critical levels in the next decade. If we don’t take strong measures to provide for more nurses in the future, we will all be affected by a lack of available health care. No amount of health insurance will make much difference if access is not available because of a critical shortage of nurses.

Nurses understand how to prioritize, and it’s essential now that we use our critical thinking skills and the nursing process to assess the situation, plan and advocate for the best possible scenario.

We have a new President who will assume office in just a few days. He is very aware of the nursing shortage and the needs of nurses. He was endorsed by the ANA for this very reason.

As a collective group we need to advocate for the change we need to help quickly solve the health care crisis this nation is facing. The economy won’t recover until we heal the matters that are draining the resources of our citizens.

Promoting healthy living and chronic disease prevention is a critical factor. Utilizing our nursing workforce to assist in this area is essential. To do so, we need the authority as well as national leadership. And as we stand tall and show our worth as nurses, we will gain the recognition we need to secure funding for education of new nurses and to address the quality of patient care for all.

We have tried in vain for many years to be recognized for what we do as nurses, and our workforce and education funding has been cut year after year because we don’t unite and have a real leader. The quality of patient care continues to be at risk because the working conditions for nurses has not been adequately addressed. The system is being flooded with patients who shouldn’t need care if they had had some very basic education in the first place.

We still hold up Florence Nightingale as our professional icon. Not to say this is all bad, but this is the 21st century and we are still looking to the 1800’s for leadership. What’s wrong with that picture? Another article in the January issue of AJN addresses this very issue as it’s Top Nursing Story of 2008.

Isn’t it time to have a National Nurse and some true representation within the government? Find out more about the National Nurse campaign.

Send your comments to AJN at ajnletters@wolterskluwer.com.

Advocate for ALL of the changes we need to adequately address the health care crisis; not just a select few.

One Comment

  • althealer

    I believe the National Nurse position should not be limited by the word
    ‘prevention”. It should be all-inclusive of everything a nurse does.
    Also I believe a concerted effort should be made to include alternative medicine as young people especially would be interested in this type of acknowledgement of a global perspective on health.