The COVID-19 pandemic exposed serious inequities in the nation’s healthcare system, with front-line healthcare workers often lacking the necessary PPE and other equipment to safely and effectively do their jobs. And the social justice movement that followed the death of George Floyd shined a spotlight on the structural racism that still exists in the workplace and society at large.
Susan Hassmiller, RN
In the wake of these many challenges, a new Future of Nursing report by the National Academy of Medicine entitled, “The Future of Nursing 2020-2030: Charting a Path to Achieve Health Equity,” outlines key issues and goals for the nursing profession over the next 10 years, with a particular focus on reducing healthcare inequities and improving health outcomes.
The report was originally scheduled for release in December 2020 but was delayed until May to incorporate lessons learned from the COVID-19 crisis and the racial and social justice issues that have occurred over the past year, according to Susan Hassmiller, PhD, RN, FAAN, senior adviser for nursing at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and senior scholar-in-residence for the National Academy of Medicine.
Regina Cunningham, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, who served on the committee that helped draft the Future of Nursing report, said COVID-19 exposed many disparities that exist within the nation’s healthcare delivery system, as low-income and minority communities were particularly hard hit by the pandemic.
“COVID-19 didn’t cause these things, but it showed us where a lot of the health disparities exist,” said Cunningham. “It was devastating but incredibly clear.”
Hassmiller gave a presentation on the report during a June 2 webinar hosted by the Columbia University School of Nursing. The webinar was also attended by other nursing leaders and experts.
She remarked that the need for greater health equity in the U.S. and a more diverse nursing workforce were central themes of the report. Hassmiller also said the report produced a total of 54 specific recommendations, but the key takeaways fall into four major areas:
1. Permanently remove nurse practice barriers
This includes removing regulatory barriers to nursing like legislation to give full practice authority to APRNs and ending restrictive workplace policies or practices that prevent nurses from practicing to the full extent of their education and training.
2. Value nurses’ contributions
This includes establishing sustainable and flexible payment mechanisms to support nurses in healthcare, including public health and school nurses, in advancing health equity.
3. Prepare nurses to tackle and understand health equity
This includes addressing systemic racism in the workplace, increasing the ranks of minority students in schools of nursing, and caring for the needs of an aging and diverse population.
4. Fully support nurses
This includes implementing systems, structures, and evidence-based interventions to promote nurses’ health and well-being.
Diversifying the Workforce
Hassmiller said the need for greater diversity in the nursing workforce is really woven throughout the Future of Nursing report. Currently, she said, the nursing workforce remains predominantly white and female, and about 90% of the nursing leaders in the U.S. are white. Those numbers do not adequately reflect the current demographic makeup of the country.