Guest Column
Here is how we can reimagine nursing in Florida | Column
Nursing is a career with so much versatility that people from diverse backgrounds and interests can find a future there.
Nurses Catherine Luu, left, and Cathleen Martinez don reusable isolation gowns at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles.
Nurses Catherine Luu, left, and Cathleen Martinez don reusable isolation gowns at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles.
Published July 14, 2022

It’s paradoxical to think that after more than two years of unrelenting frontline care, burnout, and moral injury due to the pandemic, nursing would be facing an opportunity for its largest transformation yet.

Sarah Szanton
Sarah Szanton [ CHRIS HARTLOVE 410.366.2166 | Provided ]

As the baby boomer generation continues to age and retire in Florida, more nursing staff is needed to manage the growing number of patients, but with a shortage of nurses, something needs to change. In fact, the Florida Hospital Association and Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida executed a report with IHS Markit that predicted Florida will be 59,100 nurses short of what is needed by 2035.

Kathy Driscoll
Kathy Driscoll [ Provided ]

While staying true to the fundamental values of the nursing profession, let’s use this opportunity to reimagine nursing, acknowledge a broad continuum of nurse practice settings, prioritize supporting nurses as they enter the workforce and ultimately bring more Floridians into the profession.

Here are three keys to a better future for nursing:

Limitless career opportunities. Let’s be clear: Nurses who hold roles in acute-care hospital settings remain crucial to our health care system. However, nurses have a wide variety of other practice settings to choose from — now more than ever — and it is important that we recognize and support this.

Nurses work in the home, communities, schools, jails, clinics, research labs, health care administration, even in congressional briefings. And as health care solidifies its current shift away from mostly hospital care to a more population-focused role, so will nursing with roles ranging from home-based care providers and teachers to quality and safety experts, from public health providers and consultants to entrepreneurs, health tech inventors and more.

A new kind of education. As we reframe the conversation, we should recognize that today’s nurses need a new kind of education — one that envisions the many practice settings in which nurses contribute to health and care. Under this vision, incoming nurses will learn how to practice across the care continuum.

Nurses who see people in their homes draw insights into the way people live, where they live, and how those factors affect their health. They get an inside look at who patients are as people and how social determinants of health play into their lives. This is an exciting way for nurses to practice.

To help showcase these opportunities, schools can further build partnerships with community organizations in their neighborhoods and use these educational spaces to make local impact on health. They can provide wellness checks, blood pressure screenings, health education and advocacy to support community health.

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It’s important for nursing schools to emphasize affordability to students, expand tuition assistance, and partner with future nurse employers to provide a structured pipeline of future practice-ready nurses who are prepared for a continuum of settings.

More diversity and equity in nursing. Nursing is a career with so much versatility that people from diverse backgrounds and interests can find a future there. However, some prospective nurses may not see their identities adequately reflected in the faces of those running nursing schools or businesses.

Diversity helps us put people and communities first, allowing more trusting relationships between the patient and provider. Our profession, the organizations we work for, and the people and communities we serve all benefit from the perspectives diverse people bring to the table.

Health care systems and other companies that employ nurses also must commit to compassionate and effective support systems to ensure that nurses feel supported and can stay healthy, both mentally and physically.

There is much hope for the future of nursing. Nursing must seize the good and the bad of the past to make transformational changes to the profession and the health of our nation. Even though the pandemic has been a difficult time for many, it has shone a spotlight on just how vital nurses are to the future of health care — whether through direct patient care, policy, research, advocacy, innovation or leadership.

Nursing is ready to be reimagined. Nurses and nursing advocates everywhere — including right here in Florida — should own this and lead the way in this transformation.

Sarah Szanton is dean and the Patricia M. Davidson Health Equity and Social Justice Endowed Professor of the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. Kathy Driscoll is senior vice president and chief nursing officer for Humana Inc.