One of the best decisions we’ve ever made was to become a nurse.

As nurses, we’ve both adhered to the principles that every individual deserves the best care; and that by working together, with patients and other health care providers, we can achieve the best outcomes.

The principles are timeless, but many facets of nursing practice have changed dramatically since we started our careers. Health care in America is changing in some fundamental – and forward-leaning – ways. And, changes in health care can mean important changes in the health of the nation.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, 20 million Americans have gained health coverage. Families can now get preventive care at no out-of-pocket cost. They no longer face dollar limits on their coverage. And they can’t be denied coverage just because they get sick.

This is real progress. It means more patients can focus on their recovery and staying healthy, and worry less about how they will pay their bills. And it gives us the opportunity to make our health care system work better for everyone.

Helping Nurses Provide Better Care

We need to start by making sure that more individuals choose nursing as a career. And we need to make sure that every nurse gets a state-of-the art education, to prepare them to lead in a rapidly changing health care system facing demands for complex care.

That’s why, last year, HHS’s Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) announced $94 million in new grants to train the next generation of health care professionals and expects to award additional grants later this year. These funds will help open the door to nursing careers for people from a wide variety of backgrounds, support continuing education, and encourage more nursing students to become faculty.

For advanced practice registered nurses (APRN), the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation is investing $200 million over several years in a graduate nurse education demonstration to give more APRNs the clinical skills necessary to provide primary, preventive and transitional care, as well as chronic care management. This clinical training is critically important in meeting the demands of our dynamic health system.

Reward Quality Care

We also need to change the way we pay for care so that health care professionals get paid for coordinating care, and prioritizing wellness and prevention.

In 49 states and Washington, D.C., Accountable Care Organizations have stepped up to provide coordinated care to 8.9 million people enrolled in Medicare. These new models and innovative programs depend on the contributions of nurses and nurse care managers to make that coordination possible.  In so many innovations focused on redesigning care, nurses’ contributions are central to new care approaches.

Another key component to providing quality care is to ensure the safety of nurses. Nursing ranks as one of the riskiest jobs in the U.S., with the highest rate of non-fatal occupational injuries, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The American Nurses Association has made it a priority this year to raise awareness about workplace injuries and reduce nurse injuries through its Culture of Safety Campaign.

Put the Patient at the Center

Across all of our efforts, from local to national levels, our goal should be a health system where individuals are at the center of their care and where the primary focus is helping them to stay healthy. We’ve already started some of this work, and the results are striking.

By working closely with hospitals on new guidelines and new ways to coordinate care between 2010 and 2015, our nation prevented an estimated 565,000 hospital readmissions. This work saved more than $20 billion, and most importantly, saved the lives of more than 87,000 patients.

Better care means safer care. That’s the kind of care nurses across the country are working to give their patients. It’s important to recognize the impact of nurses on patient safety and care experience.

Our health care system has improved in many important ways from our first days as nurses. But one thing hasn’t changed. Nurses are still a hallmark of our health care system. Their hard work, dedication and commitment make patients safer and our nation stronger.  And that is a legacy and a promise to the nation to celebrate.


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