Three West Virginia University School of Nursing leaders recently met with a group of select colleagues for a gathering many health professionals are already calling historic: 500 U.S. nursing leaders spent Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 in Washington, D.C. discussing and designing a landmark plan of action expected to reshape the existing health care system by strengthening the roles of nurses at all levels of care.

The goal of the invitation-only National Summit on Advancing Health through Nursing was to assemble a nursing think tank of representatives from every state, all sharing the goal of creating improved accessibility of safer, higher quality health care envisioned in 2010’s Affordable Care Act.

School of Nursing Dean Georgia Narsavage, Ph.D., Associate Dean Cynthia Persily, Ph.D., and Dr. Laurie Theeke, Ph.D. reviewed and debated the reform recommendations of the Institute of Medicine’s Robert Wood Johnson Initiative on the Future of Nursing. Dr. Patty Hermosilla, D.N.P, clinical instructor at WVU School of Nursing, is playing a key role in the implementation of the report’s recommendations in West Virginia. Since mid-2009, an interdisciplinary team comprised of a wide range of IOM health professionals and scientists has worked to develop a comprehensive, evidence-based blueprint for nurses to make sweeping changes in the delivery of health care.

“I think this could prove to be the most important document in modern American nursing education,” said Dean Narsavage. “It’s going to change not just education, but the way nurses are employed. With health care reform, there is a real need for the transformation of nursing.”

Three million nurses make up the largest segment of the health care workforce, and the new IOM recommendations build the framework to give nurses the leading role in bridging existing gaps between the growing demand for services and limited resources for quality care. As the Affordable Care Act promises health services to 32 million Americans who aren’t currently receiving care, allowing nurse practitioners to treat lower-complexity cases could be a cost-effective solution for relieving much of the anticipated heavy demand for medical services.

Current laws governing nurse practitioners’ abilities to treat patients and prescribe drugs vary by state, with some states having more restrictive rules, especially related to collaborating with physicians and prescribing medications.

“In order to have health care reform, we need all nurses practicing at the full extent of their education and training,” said Dr. Narsavage.

At the summit, leaders who create policy for Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement supported the need for all care providers to be allowed to be fully involved in solving the problems of providing primary care in our system.

“For the implementation of these recommendations, every nurse in the state has to get involved,” said Dr. Theeke. “The only way we can meet this country’s health care workforce challenge is to use nursing.”

The summit also placed emphasis on continued education for current and future nursing professionals, suggesting ways to encourage nurses with lower levels of professional education to pursue higher degrees and leadership roles. WVU has already introduced a pilot program that helps registered nurses attain their bachelor’s degree.

“About half the nurses in the United States are prepared at less than a baccalaureate level,” said Narsavage. “The associate’s degree nurses could be licensed as soon as they graduate, but they would have some kind of time limit – let’s say, five years – to complete a B.S.N. program while working. Then there would be a requirement to have completed that degree in order to renew their licenses. WVU’s program is completely online and employers usually reimburse those who complete it.”

Both Narsavage and Theeke agree that the inclusion of nurses as full decision-making partners with physicians and other health professionals is integral to any plan for health care reform. WVU is working to encourage interdisciplinary cooperation by developing a curriculum of core classes for all health sciences students to complete together before entering specialized professional training. A culture of increased understanding between health professionals is needed for success, said Theeke.

“The nurses of West Virginia want to work with every other discipline to improve the quality of health care in this state,” she emphasized. “We are very interested in teaming with physicians, social workers, physical therapists, occupational therapists, nutritionists – we need to have a big team to actually make people better.”


CONTACT: Amy Johns, HSC News Service