New Synergies Among Nurse Leaders in Connecticut

Nurses from education, practice and other realms are working together like never before to transform the nursing profession and improve health and health care.

    • January 10, 2013

A few years ago, Carole Bergeron, a nurse leader in Connecticut, witnessed what was then a rare conversation between nurses from the realms of education and practice.

During the conversation, a nurse educator began to discuss barriers students faced in areas such as accreditation and educational requirements and standards. The nurse executive responded with suggestions about changes she could make to minimize those barriers at the hospital where she worked. Then the nurse educator offered changes she would be willing to make at the university where she taught.

The conversation “may seem really simple,” Bergeron said, “but it represented a tectonic shift” in the way nurse leaders have tended to communicate. It was the kind of open-minded conversation that she had only seen a handful of times in her career, which began more than 35 years ago. “You could see the synergy.”

Bergeron is now seeing those kinds of conversations much more often, thanks to a new group of nurse and non-nurse leaders who are coming together in a formal way to transform the nursing profession in Connecticut and improve health and health care for the state’s residents.

The Connecticut Nursing Collaborative got its start in 2008 when Bergeron and other nurse leaders began informal discussions like the one described above about the need to cross institutional lines to bring about professional change. The collaborative got a major boost two years later, when the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released a report on the future of nursing that backed its mission. “That report really helped the group coalesce around critical priority issues,” Bergeron said.

In 2012, the collaborative was officially recognized as an Action Coalition, one of 49 state-level groups working to implement recommendations from the IOM report on the future of nursing. As such, it is now part of the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action, a joint effort of AARP, the AARP Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) that is rooted in the IOM report and aims to implement solutions to the challenges facing nursing.

The Connecticut Nursing Collaborative Action Coalition is led by Bergeron, RN, PhD, executive director of the Connecticut Nurses’ Association, and Marita Shurkus, MPH, CHES, BS, manager of planning and procurement at the Workforce Alliance. The core member organizations are the Connecticut Nurses’ Association, the Connecticut League for Nursing, the Organization of Nurse Executives in Conn., the Black Nurses Association of Northern and Southern Conn., and the Connecticut Association of Public Health Nurses. Current organizational membership exceeds 25 nursing and non-nursing groups.

Two Key Priorities

Coalition members have identified two key priorities: improving data collection and strengthening nurse education.

Connecticut is one of about a dozen states that does not have its own data collection center. Without state-specific data on the nursing workforce, policy-makers are forced to extrapolate state-level data from national data sets—and the results are often imprecise. This puts Connecticut at a significant disadvantage, Bergeron said. “If we want to focus on areas with greatest gaps or opportunities to make significant change, then we need to have relevant data.”

To remedy that problem, the Coalition emailed the first statewide nursing workforce survey in November and December, trying to get preliminary data from as many Connecticut nurses as possible. The Coalition now plans to analyze and share the results for use in workforce planning. In addition, it is working with the state’s Department of Public Health to establish a sustainable data collection and analysis process by 2014.

The Coalition is also making headway toward its other main goal: improving nurse education to ensure that future nurses have the skills they will need to treat an increasing, and increasingly complex, patient population. It is pushing for the adoption of a “competency-based education model” and is devising ways to facilitate academic progression so that nurses can move more easily from associate’s-degree to baccalaureate-degree programs.

To further that goal, the Coalition identified a successful pilot program, the LPN-to-RN Fast Track at a community college, and supported its replication at other community colleges. It also plans to develop similar programs for an RN-to-BSN/MSN model. “We’re pretty excited about that as a way to reinforce ongoing education and to support people who might not be able to find their way” to advanced degree programs, Bergeron said.

On Dec. 7, the Action Coalition held a statewide education summit to begin the process of creating regional task forces for educational advancement and to determine educational needs within the state. More than 125 people registered and it was a “huge success,” Bergeron said.

In addition, the Coalition and its member organizations have held other events this year, including a leadership convention for student nurses, a workshop for nurse educators, a conference on public health nursing, and a legislative day to raise awareness about the future of nursing.

Also this year, the Coalition raised $80,000—an impressive amount of money at a time of fiscal restraint.

The Action Coalition does face challenges. Connecticut is a small state with a small population, which means that it has fewer people to draw on for support. Most of those who are involved in the Coalition have full-time positions in the paid workforce, with little time left for volunteer work, Bergeron said. And although the Coalition has had some fundraising success, it has not yet raised enough money to support a full-time employee. “There’s a level of frustration when it takes longer to accomplish goals than you want it to,” Bergeron said.

Still, Bergeron is excited by what is happening. “I see a significant amount of passion and real commitment and excitement. It seems like the time is right for change.”