The problems of the United States health care system, especially related to costs, have been a constant topic in the news for at least the last 10 years. While there is little agreement on the best way to “fix” the system, the majority of Americans agree that nurses are a vital component of health care in the U.S. and this is reflected in the fact that nurses have been ranked as the most trusted profession by Gallup polls for the past 17 years. The only exception was when firefighters took the top spot just after the tragedy of 9/11.

Along with the great responsibility nurses feel to provide the best care possible for their patients and to be a patient advocate when patients are too ill to advocate for themselves, comes the concept of empowerment of nurses. The Institute of Medicine published recommendations in 2010 to transform nursing practice. Their recommendations were that nurses work to the full extent of their education; nurses achieve higher levels of education; and nurses be full partners with physicians in redesigning health care. These recommendations coincided with numerous research studies that demonstrated better patient outcomes when nurses have baccalaureate degrees and hospitals are staffed appropriately. While nursing has embraced these recommendations, the rest of the health care system is often still trying to determine what this really means.

Estimates are that by the year 2060 the population of Americans older than age 65 will double and, consequently, the number of those living with dementia will triple, with numbers expected to reach 13.9 million people. There are many other chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease that are on the increase due to the aging of the population and the health disparities that exist in the U.S. The need for talented, smart, dedicated nurses will be greater than ever. Furthermore, the need for nurse practitioners is only going to increase as more physicians move into specialty care and many nurse practitioners and physicians currently practicing move toward retirement.

With the high stress that nurses and nurse practitioners experience as they care for patients who are sicker than ever before, work long hours and experience other challenges in the workplace, it is imperative that we empower all nurses to be their best. Empowerment through increased education, workplace support, resources and regular feedback results in less burnout and better patient outcomes and lower costs to the health care system — a win for all.

Here at Averett University School of Nursing, we invested time and resources with an independent group to help us understand who we are as nurses, nurse practitioners and educators. Focused interviews showed that we here at Averett still believe nursing is a calling and not just an avenue to a paycheck. We are resilient, fearless, warm, agile and accessible. We are born healers seeking mastery of our calling and Averett’s School of Nursing empowers greatness in those we educate, preparing them to take positions as nurse leaders in the region, the nation and the world.

As Averett’s School of Nursing continues to educate baccalaureate prepared nurses and begins its first class of nurse practitioner students in January 2020, we will empower nurses to work to the fullest extent of their education, to lead health care teams and to advocate for patients and communities. Averett nurses and nurse practitioners will improve health outcomes for those in Virginia, North Carolina and beyond. We look forward to partnerships with those who have the same mission — improving the health care of our people.

DeKoninck is the assistant dean of graduate programs and an associate professor at Averett University. She wrote this column for the Register & Bee.

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