The Problem: The current national disaster response plans are based on two assumptions: one, that the United States will have a sufficient number of nurses available and willing to respond; and two, that all of our nation's nurses have the education, training and skills required to respond to catastrophic disasters and public health emergencies. But today, there are no assurances that either of these assumptions is true, according to the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN). The country is in the midst of a nursing shortage that is expected to intensify as Baby Boomers age and the need for health care increases. And while strides were made after 9/11 to increase overall national preparedness, there has been no systematic effort to prepare nurses to respond to a major terrorist or public health event.
The Proposal: Ever since she was a 15-year-old volunteer candy striper in a hospital emergency room, Tener Goodwin Veenema, PhD, MPH, MS, CPNP, FNAP, RN, has been hooked on emergency medicine issues. A nationally recognized expert in emergency nursing and disaster preparedness, Veenema developed a 30-credit master's degree program in emergency preparedness at the University of Rochester; her book, Disaster Nursing and Emergency Preparedness for Chemical, Biological and Radiological Terrorism and other Hazards, won the 2003 American Journal of Nursing (AJN) Book of the Year Award.
When she applied to the Robert Wood Johnson Executive Nurse Fellows Program, her goal was to create ReadyRN: Making Every Nurse a Prepared Nurse, a multifaceted educational initiative to prepare nurses to protect and care for themselves and their patients during any type of disaster or public health emergency. “The sentinel events for our nation were 9/11 and the anthrax threats months later. Of all of the millions and millions of dollars funded through emergency preparedness grants, nothing was going to systematically prepare our nation's nurses,” says Veenema. “We cannot, as a health care system, keep our patients safe unless we keep our nurses safe. A one-day, eight-hour class on disaster nursing is not going to cut it. It's just not enough.”
Grantee Results: Through the ReadyRN nursing program, nurses learn the essentials of emergency preparedness: how to manage shelters, perform basic patient assessments and execute disaster triage. But they also learn how to restore public health following a natural disaster, what to do in the case of biological, chemical and radiation emergencies or pandemics of infectious diseases.
The two key educational resources Veenema developed—The ReadyRN: Curriculum for Disaster Nursing and Emergency Preparedness and The ReadyRN: Handbook for Disaster Nursing and Emergency Preparedness—are based on competencies established by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and are compliant with the National Incident Management System.
In March 2007, Veenema established a collaborative partnership with Elsevier/MC Strategies to publish an advanced, expanded version of ReadyRN as an e-learning course with 25 modules.
One critical aspect of Veenema's project was to develop business partnerships to ensure national distribution channels for the ReadyRN educational products. In October 2006, following an extensive peer review, the American Red Cross formally adopted the ReadyRN curriculum as the national standard for disaster education for Red Cross nurses and disaster health services volunteers across the country. In March 2007, Veenema established a collaborative partnership with Elsevier/MC Strategies to publish ReadyRN as an e-learning course with 25 interactive modules specifically designed for nurses in hospitals and health care systems. The product, launched in June 2007, has been licensed by nurses in Oklahoma and Illinois, and is under evaluation by health departments and hospitals around the country.
“The goal is just what the talking line says: ‘Making every nurse a prepared nurse,'” says Veenema. “My goal is to get the program into all 50 states to any nurse who wants it.”
Grantee Perspective: The RWJ Executive Nurse Fellows Program challenges participants to pursue work that has the potential to improve national health outcomes. “It's impacted me on a number of levels, both personally and professionally,” Veenema says. “The ReadyRN project evolved into a career and a lifetime commitment. The Robert Wood Johnson committee recognized that this was not just an idea for a project—it was a passion.”
RWJF perspective: The Robert Wood Johnson Executive Nurse Fellows Program was created in 1997 to capitalize on the profession's strengths and build the leadership capacity of nursing. “Nurses are in a unique position to serve in leadership roles and contribute to transforming our health care system,” says Susan Hassmiller, Ph.D., R.N., RWJF senior program officer. “The Executive Nurse Fellowship Program is part of the Foundation's building human capital strategy to attract, develop and retain diverse and high-quality leaders and a workforce to improve health and health care.”