By Shawn Kennedy, AJN interim editor-in-chief

This past Tuesday, I attended the release of the highly anticipated (at least by nursing) report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) on the future of nursing. Spearheaded and supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the report provides a review of nursing’s role in health care and details what changes need to occur for the future—not just of nursing, but for the future health of the health care system.

While the findings support what nursing has been claiming all along—that nurses have a critical role in health care and the health care system needs nurses to practice to the full extent of their capability—what is especially important about this report is that it is backed by the IOM’s multidisciplinary panel and an “objective evaluation of evidence according to the robust evaluation processes of the National Academy of Sciences,” said John Rowe, a committee member and professor at Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.

The panel at the public briefing for the release of the report included some health care heavyweights who voiced strong support for the findings:

Harvey V. Fineburg, president of the IOM: “One thing shouts out—nurses are critical to the nation’s health and central to the goals of high quality care.”

Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the RWJF: “This is not a report about nursing but a report about a key missing piece to fixing health care; it establishes the centrality of nursing in providing safe, high quality, patient-centered care.”

Donna Shalala, president, University of Miami: “This report will usher in the golden age of nursing. Nursing has to be allowed to practice to the full extent of its scope of practice and to be a full partner with other professions in redesigning the U.S. health care system. It’s not about one profession substituting for another but about true collaboration.”

Later, in an interview I conducted with ANA CEO Marla Weston, she made a point of saying that allowing nurses to fully practice “isn’t just about NPs—nurses in all settings need to be allowed to practice according to their education and professional scope.  Nurses in institutional settings are often limited by bureaucratic policies and procedures.”

Prior reports by the IOM have spurred transformation of health care delivery—think of the 1999 report on medical errors, To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System, and how that initiated a focus on creating a culture of safety and brought about new standards for hospital safety. I’m hoping the same will happen now with this report.

What the MDs say. And I hope our professional colleagues will be open to the report’s findings, though I have some doubts. The American Medical Association issued a statement that, after initially noting that “health care professionals will need to continue to work together,” goes on to reveal that the AMA believes in  “a physician-led team approach to care—with each member of the team playing the role they are educated and trained to play.” Further, it says, “increasing the responsibility of nurses is not the answer to the physician shortage.”

In that they are correct—the report is not about nurses taking on the functions of physicians; it’s about nurses doing nursing and yes, some nursing and medical tasks and procedures are the same. Physicians need to change their entrenched way of thinking that they and only they know what’s best for patients (case in point: see “No Country for Old Women,” a recent blog post by AJN associate editor Amy Collins about her grandmother) and for health care. Otherwise, we will all fail those we purport to serve.

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