Why Nurses Are Key to Healthcare Change

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Healthcare change is something I am a strong proponent of.  Currently, healthcare consumes almost one-fifth of the GDP (gross domestic product) of the United States. Our healthcare system for the United States ranked eleven out of eleven, and yet we spend twice as much per person as most of the other countries being compared.  Something is wrong with the way we are delivering healthcare and the value we are bringing to the patient.

I have been in this industry for over a decade, and I want to share a few reasons why I think nurses are one of the keys to positive change in health care. This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart and one of the reasons why I do what I do with this blog and work to bring more prevention and other health care options to the patients at the organization I work for.

Nurses have the numbers – Currently, the United States has three to four million registered nurses, and around three million of them are working in the profession.  This is mind-blowing when you think about it. The vast number of registered nurses is a force to be reckoned with.  No other health care professional even comes close to this number. Nurses currently work in small groups and different specialties.

There may need to be a better unity in the profession if nurses are to make their numbers have the most impact for positive healthcare change.  The most likely choice would be having a membership with the American Nurses Association (ANA), but I am not convinced that their ideas are taking patient care in the best direction. It seems to me they are just going along to get along with everybody else in healthcare. We need an organization that is not afraid to challenge the status quo in how health care is delivered.

Nursing has a strong foundation - the nursing profession is founded on the essence of caring and a strong code of ethics.  Provision two of the code of ethics states, “the nurse’s primary commitment is to the patient.” Provision three says, “the nurse promotes, advocates for, and protects the rights, health, and safety of the patient.”  Nursing’s foundation is built on doing whatever it takes to get the patient well and to advocate for change that will promote health and better outcomes. 

Sometimes what is the “norm” or what you learned in school may not be in the best interest of the patient. As a professional, you have to recognize this and look deeper than what you may have been told by a professor. Anything you read or study, always ask yourself, “is this unbiased information I am receiving, or do they have an agenda that may not be in the best interest of the patient’s I serve?” Sometimes misinformation can be intentional or unintentional, but it is your duty to decipher that before the information reaches your patient.

Nurses are more flexible – What I mean by this is nurses have less to lose than medical doctors do by taking a stand, and that is not meant to be degrading of nurses.   It is very difficult for a medical doctor to take a stand on issues that focus on preventing chronic disease or treating chronic disease in a way that is outside the box.  He or she usually is too busy trying to be a doctor in the box and sometimes run a business at the same time. They usually have many years behind them of investing in themselves to get to where they are and may have family pressure as well. It takes a very strong person to put that at risk and often doctors are not willing to do this.

 Since being a doctor is so demanding the only research they may read for years is what the drug rep. brings to them.  This is biased information and only educates them with information about pharmaceuticals. Pharmaceuticals, for example, are often not the best tool in the toolbox and they definitely should not be the first tool to use in most cases. The doctor also may be worried about his financial lifestyle they have worked hard to build up. Many doctors look up one day and realize the shortcomings of our health care system, and say to themselves, “I am in too deep now there is nothing I can do.” 

They do not want to upset their colleagues, their profession, or rock the boat in general. They do not want to risk their license by going outside the box.  They may have school loans and are not where they want to be financially, and it is hard to threaten this when everything is running along so smoothly. This is the case for a lot of nurses as well.  In my opinion, most medical students do not know what they don’t know until they are too far in. Often, medical school can indoctrinate you into one way of approaching all disease and makes you not even consider other tools that may be safer, less invasive, and cheaper.

Increased authority of nurses – Nurses are holding more and more healthcare leadership positions. Many are CEOs of major hospitals.  Of course, this could have a negative impact on the flexibility of those individuals to rock the boat. In years past, nurses were more technicians than they were leaders and influencers. Now nurses sit around the same table as other high-level healthcare professionals to make decisions that affect healthcare policy.  At my current hospital and the one I worked at before there has been a big push for shared governance.  Nurses are collaborating with each other on new ideas and working with the administration to make process improvements.

Nurses are on the front lines – this allows nurses to build a great repour with their patients. Also, most patients respect nurses and value what they have to say. The nurse in many cases can spend the most time with the patient, does the teaching, and answers a lot of the questions a patient, and their family members may have about their care. As nurses, you are in a great position to influence patient’s actions and behaviors towards their health.

I am sure there are some reasons I left out.  If so, share them with me by commenting below on why you think nurses are one of the keys to health care change, or not.  I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.  If you like this article and want to get the word out, please share it with your friends and coworkers.

Have a healthy week,

Nurse Brian