Frantz: Making strides to improve health care for Iowans

BY GUEST COLUMN | MAY 03, 2013 5:00 AM

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The U.S. health-care system is in the midst of a major transformation to ensure that high-quality, patient-centered care will be available for all. As the largest segment of the health-care workforce, nurses are vital to the success of that transformation.

The Institute of Medicine’s landmark report, “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health,” reveals that if nurses are to be truly effective in an increasingly complex, community-focused care environment, they will need more advanced preparation. The national average of registered nurses (RNs) with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (B.S.N.) degree is 50 percent; the Medicine Institute recommends that 80 percent of RNs have a B.S.N. by 2020. Iowa is well behind other states with only 26 percent of our RNs with at least a B.S.N. 

In an effort to ensure that Iowa has a nursing workforce prepared to meet the changing expectations of care delivery, the Future of Nursing Iowa Action Coalition  was established with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and AARP. The fundamental goal of the coalition is to improve health-care quality and access to health care for all Iowans. To achieve this, members are working to increase the proportion of RNs in Iowa with at least a B.S.N. from 26 percent to 50 percent by 2020 and to implement nurse residency programs statewide to enhance the transition of new nurses to practice as large numbers of experienced nurses retire.

Recently, the Robert Wood Johnson selected the Iowa Action Coalition as one of 20 such state organizations to be part of a new $3 million initiative — the Future of Nursing State Implementation Program. The program is designed to help states prepare the nursing profession to address our nation’s most pressing health-care challenges: access, quality, and cost. The coalition is using funds from the award to implement nurse-residency programs. Given the average age of Iowa’s nursing workforce (41 percent of Iowa’s RNs are 51 years old or older), residency programs are crucial to transition entry-level nurses to practice.

Community colleges that prepare nurses with associate degrees are working collaboratively with four-year nursing programs to provide a seamless transition to more advanced educational preparation. A more highly educated nursing workforce can systematically improve quality, accountability, and coordination of care.

With an intimate understanding of patient needs and care processes, nurses have the unique ability and necessary perspective to partner with other health-care providers and lead the way toward the improvement and redesign of the health-care system. National Nurses Week (May 6-12) provides an excellent opportunity for communities throughout Iowa to affirm their recognition of the significant role nurses will play in the advancement of health care.

We’ve all met at least one outstanding nurse whose courage, compassion, and commitment to the nursing profession stands out. Each year, 100 Great Iowa Nurses, representing many sectors of health care, including hospitals, long-term care facilities, and school and office nurses, are selected from a pool of hundreds of admirable candidates and honored by the state of Iowa, fellow nurses, and community leaders.

This year’s 100 Great Iowa Nurses will be honored on May 5 — the beginning of National Nurses Week — at a reception in the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Des Moines.

To learn more, and to see if a nurse from your community was selected as one of this year’s “100 Great,” visit www.greatnurses.org.

Rita A. Frantz, Ph.D., RN, F.A.A.N.
Kelting Dean & Professor at the University of Iowa College of Nursing

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