Karen A. Daley, PhD, RN, FAAN
President, American Nurses Association

Chances are, you know a registered nurse — about 1 of every 100 Americans is one. What you may not know is the wide-ranging contributions nurses make to health care and their leadership roles that affect high-quality care and positive patient outcomes.

Leaders in care

Nurses are researchers and innovators, developing strategies to help the frail elderly remain independent in their homes and assist new mothers and their infants achieve a healthy start. We are skilled decision-makers, both at the bedside, evaluating patients to detect problems, and in the boardroom, improving health care access, efficiency, and quality. We coordinate care to ensure patients understand, actively participate in and follow their care plan. If you’ve ever helped someone with significant health issues, you know the challenges and importance of coordination.

Nurses work everywhere care is provided, from community-based clinics to private homes to schools to long-term care facilities. Nurses are collaborating with other professionals on innovative health care teams to improve performance and results.

Simply put, nurses are helping to transform the U.S. health care system, while upholding our commitment to put patients at the center of care.   The public trusts us, ranking nurses first among professions 12 years running in a Gallup poll on honesty and ethics.

Demanding more 

Demand for nursing care is growing rapidly, with the Affordable Care Act enabling increased access to care, and Baby Boomers aging into Medicare. Certain RNs, such as nurse practitioners, are increasingly providing primary and preventive care. Add to this an anticipated wave of nurse retirements — one survey found 53 percent of RNs are age 50+ — and we see a potential cloud on the horizon.

The U.S. projects the need for 1.1 million new nurses by 2022 — split between newly created jobs and replacements for retiring RNs. We recommend meeting workforce demands by:

  • Increasing funding for federal nursing workforce programs that educate and train nurses. 
  • Increasing nursing faculty salaries, which lag those for clinical practice, and recruiting younger professors to replace many faculty members nearing retirement.
  • Ensuring sufficient clinical training sites so nursing students can fulfill educational requirements. 
  • Encouraging employers to hire new nursing graduates so they can gain experience and mitigate the impact of pending nurse retirements. 

Recognizing greatness 

I encourage you to recognize nurses for what we do best: keeping communities healthy; educating patients and engaging them in their care; advocating on behalf of patients; and making clinical decisions that improve health, prevent complications and save lives.  Encourage a young person or career-changer to consider nursing; the individual and society will benefit from this rewarding and vital profession.