When it comes to reforming national health care, nurses are taking the lead.

That was one message sent during the Pennsylvanian launching of the Initiative on the Future of Nursing report, held last Thursday afternoon in Claire Fagin Hall.

Developed by the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the report analyzes the role nurses will play in shaping the future of health care.

Following a presentation by RWJF President and CEO Risa Lavizza-Mourey and Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell, School of Nursing faculty spoke on the event panel and gave testimonies on more specific issues relating to plans for reform.

Panel member and Nursing professor Julie Fairman, a nurse historian who focuses on the history of 20th-century care, said national reform will require expanded responsibilities for nurses, who can address issues like a shortage of primary care providers and the lack of access to care among certain demographics.

Fairman worked with the report committee for a year of the research process, which took 18 months overall.

Throughout this process, the committee focused on four major messages: that nurses should practice to the full extent of their training, achieve higher education on a seamless academic track, be full partners with other health care professionals in redesigning the national care system and use better data and information infrastructure for workforce planning and policy making.

In an Oct. 14 column featured on The Huffington Post, Nursing Dean Afaf Meleis wrote that although widespread reform can be difficult to implement, “changing the way healthcare is delivered in this country by ensuring that nurses play a more prominent and crucial role is not an option, it is a necessity.”

One major component of this reform will be the removal of “frustrating barriers” that unnecessarily restrict nurses’ role in care, according to Nursing professor Eileen Sullivan-Marx, who spoke at the event.

Sullivan-Marx — who has worked as a nurse practitioner for 30 years, specifically as a primary care provider, geriatric care consultant and researcher — explained that nursing education will also be affected by the waves of reform.

“It will greatly expand educational opportunities for nursing students who are very interested in challenges and community engagement,” she wrote in an e-mail.

Fairman said it is important to address the many angles of reform from a historical perspective, an endeavor she is taking on in her next book. The project will use the changing role of nurse practitioners — registered nurses with advanced education and some of the same care responsibilities as physicians — to examine modern health policy and how it relates to public perception, with a grounding in the historical context.

Building off that history, the potential role of nurses in reform “is sort of unlimited,” Fairman said.

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