At the same time, nurses do not function in a vacuum, but in the context of the skills and perspectives of physicians and other health professionals. Planning for the fundamental changes required to achieve a reformed health care system cannot be accomplished without a clear understanding of the necessary contributions of these various professionals and the numbers and composition of the health care workforce. That understanding in turn cannot be obtained without reliable, sufficiently granular data on the current workforce and projections of future workforce needs. Yet major gaps exist in the currently available workforce data. These gaps hamper the ability to identify and implement the necessary changes to the preparation and practice of nurses and to the overall health care system. Chapter 6 explores these issues in greater detail.
Most of the near-term challenges identified in the ACA speak to traditional and current strengths of the nursing profession in care coordination, health promotion, and quality improvement, among other things. Nurses are committed to improving the care they deliver by responding to health care challenges. If their full potential is to be realized, however, the nursing profession itself will have to undergo a fundamental transformation in the areas of practice, education, and leadership. During the course of this study, the committee formulated four key messages it believes must guide that transformation: (1) nurses should practice to the full extent of their education and training; (2) nurses should achieve higher levels of education and training through an improved education system that promotes seamless academic progression; (3) nurses should be full partners, with physicians and other health professionals, in redesigning health care in the United States; and (4) effective workforce planning and policy making require better data collection and an improved information infrastructure.
At the same time, the power to deliver better care—quality care that is accessible and sustainable—does not rest solely with nurses, regardless of how ably led or educated they are; it also lies with other health professionals, consumers, governments, businesses, health care institutions, professional organizations, and the insurance industry. The recommendations presented in Chapter 7 target individual policy makers; national, state, and local government leaders; payers; and health care researchers, executives, and professionals—including nurses and others—as well as larger groups such as licensing bodies, educational institutions, and philanthropic and advocacy and consumer organizations. Together, these groups have the power to transform the health care system to achieve the vision set forth at the beginning of this chapter.