Why Nursing Is Becoming Even More Critical to Health Care

by JHI Staff on May 8, 2014

Nursing is a linchpin to health care success, Johns Hopkins Medicine International has found again and again as we help collaborators around the world sustainably improve health care systems. Raising the level of nursing catalyzes improvement throughout the systems in ways that strongly impact every aspect of the quality and safety of patient care.

Research backs that up. For example, The American Economics Journal: Applied Economics recently published a study that looked at 900,000 patient admissions, and found that patient outcomes on average measurably improved when the nurses in a patient’s unit were more experienced and had more training.

Most of us in health care wouldn’t be surprised by those findings. For a few centuries now, nurses have provided patients with broader, more continuous bedside support than physicians can usually hope to offer. Nurses typically spend more time physically closer to the patient, which means they’re often quicker to spot changes in the patient’s status. They can observe a patient’s mood and level of comfort, interact more, and become more familiar with the patient’s family and lifestyle, all of which can enormously affect a patient’s recovery.

No wonder then that health care safety and quality improved in the United States a few decades ago when nurses started to become regarded as full and equal members of the clinical care team alongside physicians. And the importance of nursing to patient care increased all the more when medicine cut down on the long shifts that physician interns and residents traditionally had to endure. Today patients can rarely expect to be monitored by the same physician throughout the course of an entire day, which means it’s largely up to the nursing staff to maintain a sense of how a patient’s condition is trending over the hours. And nurses not only deliver patient care, but also play a strong role in research, health care innovation and public health, as this article on Johns Hopkins nursing “heroes” illustrates, along with this article on a Johns Hopkins nurse practitioner’s work in the Caribbean.

And now there are new reasons nursing will be even more important in the future. As health care systems look for ways to deliver better care to more patients at lower cost, nurses may need to take over many of the responsibilities that have traditionally belonged to physicians, such as administering routine tests, providing nutritional counseling and answering patients’ questions. Here in the United States, the Affordable Care Act is pushing for those sorts of changes. As this article relates, the U.S. government has already earmarked some $50 million in nursing-education grants to help address a predicted shortage of at least half a million nurses a decade from now.

As challenging as it is to develop nursing to its full potential in the United States, it can be an even more daunting task in many of the countries in which we are working. (There are even nurses who work between countries, as this article explains.) Some countries have lagged behind the United States in elevating the status of nurses, and bridging that gap can be tricky—and this in addition to the fact that the demands on nurses in these countries can be especially high, given that physicians may be in shorter supply. To address these challenges, we’ve established a range of programs that involve not only conventional training, but also nurse exchanges, mentoring, leadership development, team building, culture change and much more.

As a result, the health care systems with which we collaborate globally have made great strides, even while we at Johns Hopkins Medicine’s Baltimore-area hospitals strengthen our commitment to having nursing play an ever larger role. It’s an ongoing effort, and one we know will pay off for patients everywhere.

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Jane May 8, 2014 at 3:00 pm

Thanks for describing the importance of nursing to the world's health, and touching on some of the challenges facing our profession. It's great to see Hopkins nurses taking their expertise and caring world-wide.

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Kali May 8, 2014 at 1:36 pm

Great article. Happy Nurses Week! They are the heart and soul in this business of healthcare.

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