Few nurses disagree that our nation's healthcare system is, quite simply, a mess. In less than 8 years, healthcare in the United States is projected to cost $4.2 trillion or about 20% of the gross domestic product.1 Insurance costs throughout the country are skyrocketing, prescription drugs are unaffordable, and chronic preventable diseases, including type 2 diabetes, are on the rise. We fail to focus on prevention because most of us don't go to see our healthcare providers when we're well; we go when we're sick.
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Fortunately, a large skilled nursing workforce already exists with the expertise, skills, and commitment needed to shift our focus to prevention and begin improving our nation's health. All we need is the leadership to tap into this enormous potential.
There is a large grassroots movement calling for legislation that would create an Office of the National Nurse, promoting the current Chief Nurse Officer of the U.S. Public Health Service to the National Nurse. Increased to a full-time position within the Office of the Surgeon General, the National Nurse would focus on the Surgeon General's priorities of promoting health, improving health literacy, and decreasing health disparities. A nursing leader with the unique title of National Nurse will ensure prominence and increase public awareness for promoting health at the national level.
To minimize costs and prevent duplication of efforts, existing programs must be strengthened. The National Nurse will guide and encourage nurses, particularly students and retirees, to engage in community-based prevention activities. Such efforts can be made through local Medical Reserve Corps units or other existing networks. Organized prevention activity in community settings will provide additional opportunities for student learning and raise visibility of public health nursing roles. To address cultural disparities, the Office of the National Nurse would assist nurses already working in every ethnic community to engage in community-based interventions to correct racial and ethnic disparities at the local level.
As nurses, we belong to the most trusted profession. Yet the Advisory Committee on National Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Objectives for 2020, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, didn't include a single nurse.2
The nation is ready for change. It's time for nurses to call for leadership that will position nursing on the front line.
Now is the time for a National Nurse.
Teri Mills, RN, ANP, CNE, MS
President, National Nursing Network Organization
1. Poisal JA, Truffer C, Smith S, et al. Health spending projections through 2016: modest changes obscure Part D's impact. Health Aff. 2007;26(2):w242-w253. [Context Link]
2. Worth T. Nurses need not apply here, either. AJN. 2008;108(7):23. [Context Link]