Nurses – Leaders in Health Reform

“Never underestimate the power of a small group of dedicated people to change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

This is an unprecedented year for transformational health system change. It is not only important for nurses to be involved – it is Critical!

The illness care system is in crisis. People seek basic health care in hospital emergency rooms, 51% of the American population takes medication, and our greatest killers, obesity and lifestyle diseases are escalating. As treatment costs rise exponentially, the number of people covered by health insurance is decreasing. Often modern illness care results in financial bankruptcy. These trends are disastrous.

Additionally, the current economic down turn requires that solutions be radical, cost-effective and immediate in order to turn the tide.

The system cannot survive if we continue to focus exclusively on a medical model of symptom diagnosis and treatment. The trends demand a radical shift toward helping people learn how to become and stay well.

What profession focuses on helping people become and stay well? Nursing! With the overwhelming mandate for change demanded by our recent election, a window of opportunity is open for health system evolution. Not a revolution that throws out the medical model, rather an evolution that expands the system to include a continuum of care supporting and promoting health from birth through the life-span and transition into death.

There will never be a more critical time for Nurses to Show-up, Speak-up and Step-up to Make a Difference for the Health of America. If you are ready to seize this unprecedented opportunity to influence how the health system evolves, now is the time.

Now is the Time to Show-Up as a Leader.

Nurses led every major health reform in history. Nightingale reformed hospital and battlefield health. Lillian Wald began reforming public health as a nursing student, later establishing the Henry Street Settlement to provide care to the poor and immigrant population. Mary Breckinridge, a nurse-midwife, reformed maternal-child and family health by founding the Frontier Nursing Service, educating and employing nurse-midwives, and establishing family care centers in the Appalachia Mountains. Margaret Sanger reformed reproductive health and Dame Cicely Saunders, known for her role in birthing the hospice movement, emphasized the importance of palliative care.

Today, nurses are showing up to lead by creating innovative health care delivery models and shaping public policy.

Now is the Time to Speak-Up as a Nurse.

Nurses once again rank #1 as the most trusted professionals in the annual Gallup Poll. Talk with your public. They want to know what you think. What nurse has not received a call at all hours from family and neighbors asking for advice or counsel before seeking medical care?

Nurses comprise the largest number of health care providers. The mandate of our license is to serve the public and advocate for safe, effective and accessible health care. Let the public hear your views.

Speak up with other nurses. Share your concerns and ideas as colleagues and team members. Form a nursing mastermind group to refocus your practice on health and create innovation together in whatever nursing arena you practice.

Speak up with your legislators, the people who decide the scope and limits of your nursing practice.

Now is the Time to Step-Up as a Professional. If the purpose of nursing is helping people become and stay well then nursing is about not only attending patients in hospitals and other tertiary care settings. Only 3% of the population is in an institution. The other 97% needs nursing in the form of primary care, health education, health coaching and wellness.

Who will decide the future of Nursing and Health Care? Your Legislators will!

When I was President of the WV Nurses Association, I learned that the only thing more important than big money in influencing legislators is big numbers.

We sent out the Call and Nurses Showed-Up in record numbers to Unite at the Legislature. These nurses filled the galleries of the House and Senate to overflowing. As a result, we were able to support the passage of three bills including landmark needle stick and mandatory overtime protection, and block a fourth, which allowed unlicensed personnel to dangerously perform nursing functions. The legislators heard the nurses’ message loud and clear!

The nurses, who Showed-Up, Spoke-Up and Stepped-Up for that challenge protected the public and the ability for all nurses to practice safely and effectively.

Will You Show Up as a Leader to meet today’s challenge of health system reform, Speak Up as a Nurse to advocate for the health of all Americans and Step-Up as a Professional to articulate the cost-effectiveness and need for expanding access to professional nursing care?

Borrowing from our President-Elect – “Together, We Can”!

© 2008 Aila Accad