New Campaign to Transform Nursing Sparks Enthusiasm Across Country

National, state and local leaders build momentum behind campaign to ensure that nurses can contribute as partners in improving health and health care in the United States.

    • June 28, 2011

Just six months old, a massive, multifaceted campaign to improve health and health care by transforming the field of nursing is off to a robust start, campaign leaders say.

Leaders of the Future of Nursing: are barnstorming around the country to engage nurses and non-nurses in a nationwide effort to overhaul the nursing profession. At the same time, state and local nurse leaders and other stakeholders are working to build momentum and take specific actions to make concrete change.

“I am beside myself with exuberance when I see how excited people are about the campaign and when I see the structures they have put in place to bring about change,” said Susan B. Hassmiller, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N., the senior adviser for nursing at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), which is organizing the campaign in collaboration with AARP.

The campaign is working to implement solutions to the challenges facing the nursing profession and to build upon nurse-based approaches to improving quality and transforming the way Americans receive health care. Along with AARP, it is enlisting support across the health care spectrum and engaging prominent leaders and organizations from government, business, academia and philanthropy.

The campaign was launched in response to a groundbreaking report released last year by the Institute of Medicine (IOM). The report—The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health—includes recommendations for a plethora of system improvements including proven, solutions-oriented ways to address the nursing and nurse faculty shortages in the United States. Many of the recommendations are not new, but together they create a blueprint for change and an opportunity for leaders and other stakeholders to work together around a common set of goals.

At the national level, luminaries such as Donna Shalala, Ph.D., F.A.A.N., the former head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, who is now president of the University of Miami in Florida, and Linda Burnes Bolton, Dr.P.H., M.P.H., M.S.N., vice president for nursing and the chief nursing officer and director of nursing research at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, are working to spread the word about the importance of the campaign.

Meanwhile, Action Coalitions are pushing for nursing-related advances at the local, state and national levels. These coalitions are in place in 15 states, and leaders hope to establish dozens more over the course of the year.

“It’s a lot like a political campaign,” Hassmiller said. “The states are critical to moving this effort along.”

State Action Coalitions Report Early Successes

State coalitions are already reporting successes. In Utah, for example, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rebecca Lockhart, B.S.N., is a nurse and is actively engaged in the Campaign for Action. She spoke at a press conference to launch the Utah coalition and, because of her powerful position in state politics, sparked interest among reporters, said Maureen Keefe, R.N., Ph.D., F.A.A.N., dean and professor of the College of Nursing at the University of Utah.

The Utah coalition is working with HealthInsight, a non-profit organization that works to improve health care systems and to engage non-nurses in the campaign. HealthInsight has formed two working groups that are focusing on education and practice, and on leadership and collaboration. They have identified goals such as increasing the number of nurses with bachelor’s degrees, developing residencies for student nurses, identifying opportunities for nurses to serve in leadership positions, and collecting data on nurse education levels.

“We have a great deal of interest and enthusiasm in our state,” Keefe said. “But we are still in the early stages of organizing our efforts for sustainability and inclusiveness.”

The Mississippi coalition, meanwhile, has developed a strategic plan and created an organizational infrastructure to advance priority areas including education redesign, scope of practice issues, interprofessional collaboration, leadership and communication.

It is relying on “old-school networking” to reach out to non-nurses, said Rita Wray, M.B.A., R.N., B.C., F.A.A.N., deputy executive director of the Department of Finance and Administration in Jackson. And that time-tested strategy is working; non-nurses, she says, are reacting with “excitement and hope” about the plans to overhaul the nursing profession.

Nurse leaders are also enthusiastic about progress in New Jersey. “People are starting to realize” how important nurses are to health care, said David Knowlton, M.A., president and CEO of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute and co-chair of the New Jersey Action Coalition. “That bodes well for making progress. People will begin to say, ‘You just can’t get progress on this unless nurses are engaged.’”

Nationally, the campaign is now in the “awareness and alertness” phase, Hassmiller said, and travel is a key part of the field strategy.

Hassmiller, Susan Reinhard, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N., and Diana Mason, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N., have planned a busy travel schedule to ramp up the campaign. Reinhard is senior vice president of the AARP Public Policy Institute and chief strategist at the Center to Champion Nursing in America (CCNA), a joint initiative of AARP, the AARP Foundation and RWJF; and Mason, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N, co-director of the Center for Health, Media & Policy at Hunter College, City University of New York, was recently named a strategic advisor on the campaign.

They have visited or plan to visit Washington state, New Jersey, Florida, Illinois, Mississippi, Texas, Washington D.C., New Mexico, Utah, Kansas, Nebraska, California, Missouri, Indiana, New York and Minnesota. They have also held video conferences with stakeholders in states such as Illinois, Hawaii and Delaware.

During their visits, Hassmiller, Reinhard and Mason are helping leaders recruit stakeholders, educate policy-makers, refine messaging, reach out to donors, gain visibility in the news media, connect with potential partners and allies, and move forward on the report’s recommendations.

AARP, meanwhile, is providing state campaigns with the technical assistance needed to establish campaign infrastructures, connect with outside leaders, and much more.

States will also learn from working with each other, Hassmiller said. “Our job is to keep connecting them to one another virtually and through in-person learning collaboratives.”

The reaction in the states has been overwhelmingly positive from nurses, Hassmiller said. “They’re exceedingly appreciative that RWJF is providing resources to issues that are so important to them,” she said. Nurses consider this a historic time for their profession and want to do everything they can to help ensure the success of the campaign, she added.

Other groups need more encouragement to join the campaign, she said.

“It’s not easy for nurses to explain to doctors and members of the business community and the higher education community why they should be involved in what looks like a nursing campaign,” Hassmiller said. “But this is a societal issue. We are concerned with our education system in this country and with those who are teaching our children. We should be equally concerned with the health care system and those who are providing direct care to ourselves and to our family members: our nurses.”