What Is-Or Should Be- the Future of Nursing?

In a recent Medscape News article “Back to the Future of Nursing: What Progress Have We Made?” , Laura A. Stokowski, RN, MS reported on the results five years after the national Institutes of Medicine (IOM) issued a 2010 report titled “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health” that was designed to be:

“a wake-up call that exposed the many barriers that prevented the nursing profession from contributing fully to the healthcare system: an aging workforce, regulatory restrictions on nursing practice, fragmentation of healthcare, limited capacity of the nursing education system, and lack of workforce data. It was also a catalyst for finding solutions to these problems.”

The followup report titled “Assessing Progress on the Institute of Medicine Report The Future of Nursing” came out in December 2015 and reported only some progress in their key questions:

  -Have scope-of-practice barricades been pushed aside? Are nurses being permitted to practice to the full extent of their education and licensure?

-Are more nurses earning baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral degrees?

-Are new graduate nurses being transitioned to the profession more safely and effectively through nurse residency programs?

-Does the ethnic composition of the nursing workforce more closely match the level of diversity in the general population?

-Have opportunities expanded for leadership and interprofessional collaboration in healthcare?

If you are a nurse and were unaware of all this, you are not alone. As a full-time ICU nurse, neither I nor my fellow nurses were aware of this study at that time. The only change we noticed was when our hospital suddenly announced  that every RN must have a BSN by 2021 or be terminated.

I wish we had been asked for our input!


Instead of the IOM focus on these issues, I would propose  at least four measures to really help the majority of us who work in health care institutions to provide the quality care we want for our patients as well as to reduce the stresses of nurses that often lead to burnout and quitting the profession.

 1. Consider bringing back the head nurse

When I started nursing over 47 years ago, we had head nurses who knew the patients, doctors and staff by working with them daily to make sure care was coordinated, staffing was adequate,  and problems were addressed quickly.

Now we have managers and other administrators who often are not RNs and who are often rarely seen or available because of endless meetings. The formerly close working relationships with head nurses have now become almost adversarial relationships with managers as cost containment measures, endless new policies based on legal risk, mandated government regulations, inadequate staffing etc., grind down nurses.

 2. Try retention incentives instead of signup bonuses

Years ago when there was a nursing shortage, signup bonuses were offered to potential nurse employees. I was asked by a director of nurses if I thought the bonuses were high enough.

I told this director that it might be better to try retention bonuses since the newly employed nurses we trained often left after the required year of service to get a signup bonus at another hospital. This wasted the money and time used to assign a precepting nurse to support the temporary new nurse during the weeks-long orientation to our hospital policies and procedures.

A retention bonus would help keep our good, experienced nurses who were already familiar with the doctors, other staff, departments and hospital policies. Such nurses are also often excellent resources for the rest of the staff. This could help prevent some mistakes caused by inexperience or unfamiliarity. In addition, such bonuses could also save money  and increase staff morale by reducing a high turnover rate.

3. Don’t automatically force nurses to get a BSN (bachelor’s degree in nursing)

As I wrote in my March blog “Is it Time for a Two-Track Nursing Education System?”, there is a lack of openings in many BSN programs, not to mention the time stresses and money involved in trying to coordinate full-time 12 hour hospital shifts while  caring for a family and taking classes on a deadline.

Yet there will always a need for excellent bedside nurses who strive to improve their skills, whether or not they decide to pursue a BSN. I believe that it should be a choice, not a requirement, to seek an advanced degree only in nursing.

In the meantime, I believe we should improve basic nursing education, especially by increasing clinical experience and providing mentoring to new graduates.

4. Good nurses deserve to have both conscience and whistle blower rights respected

An April, 2016  Medscape News article “Two Nurses Who Spoke Up, Lost Their Jobs, and Sued”  chronicled the years-long battle of 2 nurses who discovered and reported patient safety problems at their hospitals and lost their jobs as a result of their patient advocacy efforts. Unfortunately, being a good nurse does not automatically provide job security or protection.

Good nurses need both conscience and whistle blower rights protected. Despite rapid changes in historic ethical  and legal principles involving life-termination and abortion issues, most nurses still don’t want to actively participate. Neither do most nurses want to be intimidated from reporting medical incompetence or serious violations of standards involving patient safety.

However, good nurses often find themselves  at risk of harassment or even termination if they refuse to participate in deliberate life-ending decisions or refuse to ignore actual or potential harms to their patients.

Unfortunately, the American Nurses Association and state boards of nursing do not offer much help to nurses in such difficult situations. As the Medscape News article states, even though one nurse cited documents from the American Nurses Association (ANA) code of ethics  which say that nurses have a professional responsibility to protect patient safety:

 “The tricky part—and this is where an experienced attorney is helpful—is understanding the ins and outs of state laws that describe the exceptions to “at will” employment. If an employee reports a patient safety problem and/or is a member of a protected class (older, or a minority), the employer will probably try to prove that the employee was fired for another reason—poor performance, for example. A court will weigh the evidence and decide whether the public policy at issue is more important than upholding the doctrine of at-will employment.”


Nurses share a special bond and I am proud to be part of a truly noble profession.  But we need to be able to speak out without fear to insist on the highest standards to improve our healthcare system for both ourselves and especially our patients’ sake.

One thought on “What Is-Or Should Be- the Future of Nursing?

  1. Thanks for writing educating the public on this topic! When I attended at a local community college (2002 and 2003), I learned that 4-year schools were pushing for BSN for obvious reasons: more revenue! And this would put an end to quality, affordable and achievable 2-year programs at community colleges. [St. Louis Community’s Florissant Valley Campus had 100% passing rate for the RN example by nurses that graduating from it’s program!] It’s unfortunate that a a wonderful profession and source of income for many people is now out of reach because of the need for an expensive 4-year programs (of which 2-years are general education courses).


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