Catalysts for Change: Harnessing the Power of Nurses to Build Population Health in the 21st Century

Nurses look over a patient's file.

The nursing profession has its origins in population health.

Beyond highly multifaceted roles in clinical settings, nurses have always brought health to people in diverse ways in the places where we live, learn, work, and play.

Additionally, nurses are educated to consider health issues within a broad context that includes the social determinants of health. As a result, they not only deliver clinical interventions, but are able to identify factors outside of health care which affect health, and develop interventions to advance broader population and community health.

In connection with emerging work in support of nursing and population health, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation commissioned research exploring how nurses can help the nation address the declining health of its citizens and promote the health of its population in the 21st century.

In the study, the authors examine major trends affecting the role of nursing in population health, key competencies and roles for an expanded field of population-focused nursing, and potential implications for nursing education, research, policy and practice.   

Key Findings

  • Nursing education must be transformed to integrate population-focused nursing concepts into the curricula for all nursing students and into the accreditation standards for schools of nursing.

  • Nursing practice must be transformed to increase the focus of all nursing roles and specialties on population-focused concepts, such as the coordination of care across providers and care sites, and collaboration with other professionals and community stakeholders.

  • Concerted efforts must be undertaken to address national trends—such as America's aging population, looming nurse retirements, and losses in staffing and funding for essential public health services—which may have a significant affect on nurses' role in improving population health.

  • Continued support must be provided for research to advance the role of nurses in population health, such as evaluating nurses' contribution to population health initiatives, and developing a pipeline of nurse health services researchers focused on population health.

  • Continued support must be provided for advocacy to advance the role of nurses in population health, such as recommendations in the 2010 Institute of Medicine report on the Future of Nursing which call for policy changes to engage nurses in achieving population health.

This summary is based on the white paper authored by Judith Lloyd Storfjell, PhD, RN, FAAN; Betty Wehtje Winslow, PhD, RN; and Jasmine S.D. Saunders, MPH, with support from RWJF.