Rosa M. Gonzalez-Guarda, PhD, MSN, MPH, RN
Assistant Professor
UM School of Nursing & Health Studies

As President Shalala echoed at the National Press Club in Washington, DC on October 5th, during the press release of the Institute of Medicine Report (IOM) entitled,  “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health,” we have entered the golden age of nursing.

The passage of the Affordable Care Act in March 2010 will ensure that an additional 32 million Americans will have health insurance. However, this does not mean that they will have access to health care. With a deficit of primary care providers, the health care system does not currently have the capacity to provide care for this remarkable increase in patient load.
With an understanding of the important role that nurses, the largest and most trusted segment of the nursing workforce could play in shaping the future of health care in the U.S., The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) created a two-year initiative that aimed to provide a blueprint of the future of nursing and health care in the U.S. As a cornerstone to this initiative are the recommendations of the IOM committee on the future of nursing, a committee which I had the honor to be part of.

After almost two years of meeting as a committee, studying critical issue in nursing and health care such as the nursing shortage, health disparities and health economics, conducting town hall meetings and technical workshops, commissioning white papers, consulting with researchers and experts in the field, and engaging stakeholders, the committee came to one fundamental conclusion. If we want to improve access to high quality, patient-centered, and culturally-competent care, we must take full advantage of the capacity of nurses. We must unlock their potential.

In order to unlock the potential of nursing, the committee recommended that scope of practice barriers be removed, that the education and training of nurses be improved through a seamless system that promotes higher education, that nurses assume a more important role in leading the redesign of health care systems, and that more and higher quality data be made available for effective workforce planning.
During the press release of the report one audience member asked the committee to explain why this report was different to the others. Alluding to the plethera of reports on nursing that have been written since the inception of the profession, most of which have made little or no impact on the evolution of the profession, the audience member was skeptical with every right.

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