Reflections for our nation’s nurses

Ellen Maker | May 9, 2014

It is my sincere hope all of you have enjoyed National Nurses Week 2014. As the week draws to a close, I’d like to offer some reflections …

Next year I celebrate my 30th anniversary as a Registered Nurse. If you had told me as a 20-year-old RN (a new grad walking the wards on the night shift) that I would be working on issues such as patient safety, the environment of care, quality measurement, health IT and the patient and caregiver experience – here  in our nation’s capital – I  never would have believed it!

I am proud, and amazed, when I think about the choices that have made it possible for so many nurses like me to participate in the extraordinary developments in health care enabled by health IT, including the flexibility and omnipresence of digital data and the enhanced distribution of knowledge via the internet.  Nurses from all settings and practice areas have the power of our reach to share our stories, educate our neighbors and work to close the gaps in the health care system. Believe in yourselves and know that you make a difference. Your experiences matter.

Last year, the world of nursing lost a brilliant nursing advocate, leader and thinker who made a difference herself: Donna Diers, PhD, RN, FAAN. I was very lucky to have Donna as my academic advisor, mentor, and friend.  Donna had a long, brilliant, and diverse career in nursing. She defined nursing this way:

“Nursing is two things: the care of the sick (or potentially sick) and 
the tending of the entire environment within which care happens.”

With our skills and our wisdom as clinicians, caregivers, patient advocates, parents, and members of the community we influence the health care environment more broadly and powerfully than you might think. The federal and state governments seek input from you in every one of your roles.

This is a critical time in health care and nursing. We are moving into an era of change with much promise, especially with health IT: mobile, telehealth, data sharing, improved interdisciplinary collaboration, and increasing electronic health record (EHR) adoption, much of which will help to enable enhanced care coordination.

Yet some of the very things we know are advancing care can also pose new threats to patient safety and the quality of care.  As the proximal care provider, you as the nurse are uniquely qualified to recognize the advantages and disadvantages of these changes. With our experience comes the responsibility to attend to the consequences of health IT. The amount of data can be overwhelming and difficult to comprehend. That’s when the vigilance and expertise of nurses both in the design of health IT tools and at the point of care for patients will be essential. As Donna said, your involvement in this dynamic environment is welcomed and needed.

Throughout this week, the ONC Buzz blog featured the diverse roles of nurses across a wide array of career settings: government, health IT, school nursing. What all these roles have in common is that nurses are leaders, nurses are trusted, and nurses are role models – and at 3.1 million strong – almost everyone knows a nurse! (So if you are not a nurse, I know you know one, so please forward this post on to him or her!)

I encourage you to reflect on your sphere of influence and how it is that you inspire those around you to adopt practices that support better health, better health care and help to control the cost of care for all Americans.  To all of the nurses “Leading the Way” it is my privilege to serve you here in Washington D.C. I am humbled, I am grateful, and I am so very proud to be a nurse.