Thanks to Wilmington University’s College of Health Professions, nurses can secure the advanced education they need to succeed in today’s increasingly complex health care field — all while maintaining their professional and personal commitments. But what does advanced nursing care mean to patients?
Delaware faces a health care crisis. Demographic shifts and an increasing population have placed the demand for health professionals at an all-time high. Yet the nursing shortage of several decades — in addition to the primary care physician shortage — is poised to escalate when experienced nurses of the Baby Boomer generation retire.
Nurse practitioner Dr. Marlin Gross, Jr., a graduate of Wilmington University’s Doctor of Nursing Practice program, wonders, “How will the United States offer high quality, cost-effective care that’s culturally sensitive to its diverse populations as many states like Delaware struggle with rising health care costs amid a fragile economic climate?”
It’s a good question.
Several years ago, Gross was selected by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to participate as a nurse faculty scholar in activities supporting its joint initiative with the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to examine the nursing workforce’s ability to meet the demands of a reformed health care and public health system. The initiative generated “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health,” a report that identified nursing — the largest health care profession with more than 3 million members — as central to the successful transformation of American health care.
“A growing body of evidence indicates that quality of care is linked to the work performed by professional nurses,” Gross says. “Research suggests that access to quality, cost-effective, culturally relevant care has the potential to expand significantly by increasing the use of professional registered nurses and advance practice nurses (APNs), such as nurse practitioners.”
Nurses are no strangers to challenges, nor do they shy away from leadership. “Individuals who choose nursing as a vocation are unique,” says Dale Jafari, a WilmU alumna and adjunct professor. “We see things from a different perspective, and our vision drives us to seek out that which is in the best interest of our colleagues and the populations we serve.”
Research suggests that American nurses will best meet the challenges of a reformed health care system through advanced education. Nursing is distinctive because multiple educational pathways lead to securing an entry-level license to practice, which includes the nursing diploma, the associate’s degree in nursing, and the bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN). Moreover, multiple studies have concluded that patients who are attended by nurses with bachelor’s degrees (or higher) show statistically lower mortality rates, higher-quality outcomes and fewer adverse health events. That’s because the BSN equips nurses with greater critical thinking skills and knowledge to digest and interpret information quickly. These are skills now expected of nurses. Patient needs and care environments have simply become more complex.
Nursing leaders at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children agree. “Health care is changing at lightning speed,” says Jane Mericle, operational vice president and chief nursing executive. “Information that would have taken weeks to obtain just a few years ago is available today at clinical nurses’ fingertips. Attaining, understanding and applying this information requires advanced education. Therefore, additional and ongoing academic education is essential for every practicing nurse.”
Not to mention competencies that include leadership, health policy, system improvement, research and evidence-based practice, teamwork and collaboration, as well as expertise in specific content areas like geriatrics or public health. Nurses are depended upon to master technological tools and information management systems while collaborating and coordinating care across teams of health professionals.
Dr. Lori Irelan, regional chair of WilmU’s nurse practitioner programs, reinforces the importance of education for RNs. “Nurses are needed in autonomous and leadership roles now more than ever,” she says. “Higher education prepares an RN to navigate more than just the bedside tasks. As RNs, we must know about research, policy, politics and informatics. That is much different than what was expected of us just 10 years ago. We are gaining a new role and are seen as innovators in health care.”
The IOM, which is encouraging nurses to achieve higher levels of education, established a goal for 80 percent of clinical nurses to be prepared at the BSN level by 2020. “Patients in health care deserve the best-educated workforce possible,” says Mericle. “And education in nursing enhances both clinical competency and care delivery in all venues of care.”
Magnet recognition, a mark of excellence conferred by the American Nurses Credentialing Center, places added emphasis on the BSN degree. Since the mid-1990s, more than 300 hospitals, including Nemours and Christiana Care, have achieved Magnet status for meeting a variety of standards related to patient care and working environment for nurses. A primary Magnet requirement is the overall level of education among direct-care and leadership nurses and the amount of support that hospitals provide to nurses to pursue advanced education. These credentials are used to recruit top nurses, and by hiring more nurses that hold BSN degrees, hospitals can improve their Magnet standings.
Researchers, hospital officials, professional nursing organizations and nurse educators agree that nurses who earn BSN degrees are fortified to navigate professional demands and secure top employment options. BSN-educated nurses will have the comprehensive skills required to meet America’s increasingly complex health care needs.
The Nurse Practitioners
Joy Maulik, a working nurse practitioner and graduate of WilmU’s MSN-Family Nurse Practitioner program, needed flexible program options that allowed him to meet his professional and personal commitments while advancing his education. He cites convenience and faculty dedication as his top reasons for choosing WilmU.
“As a husband, father of twins and full-time nursing professional,” says Maulik, “I needed a program that was geared towards the adult learner who needed flexibility. Wilmington University provided me with that. Its faculty is both knowledgeable and invested in the success of the students. I can truly say that the whole experience has been a positive journey for me, and I look forward to coming back to WilmU for my future educational needs.”
Nurses like Maulik have to respond to increased demands, but their academic programs have to lay the groundwork for success. WilmU offers flexible, affordable and accredited nursing education programs for RNs at all levels of study: bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral. Those programs have become the most popular and comprehensive in the area.
“WilmU is listening to the needs of the nation and community,” says Irelan. “We have done our research and worked closely with our advisory board and community to create programs for our changing times, based on specific needs of our area.”
WilmU’s RN-to-BSN program, for example, has a rolling enrollment, which means that students can take courses at their own pace without being tied to a cohort. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Day, evening and weekend classes, as well as top ranked online options, have made WilmU the choice of many mid-Atlantic nurses. And WilmU is a respected educational partner of leading health care providers, including the Christiana Care Health System.
The American Association of Medical Colleges Center for Workforce Studies estimates that by 2020, the U.S. will have a shortage of 45,000 primary care physicians. Nurse practitioners are advanced practice nurses who’ve earned master’s or doctorate degrees, and play a significant role in meeting Americans’ overwhelming primary health care needs — and that includes millions enrolled under the Affordable Care Act. Nurse practitioners can diagnose and treat common acute conditions, provide ongoing care for chronic health conditions, and deliver prevention and wellness interventions. They offer viable solutions for patients who, because of their rural geographic locations, have little access to physicians. Scopes of Practice laws in several states prevent nurse practitioners from having full practice authority. But in July, Delaware joined 21 states in allowing nurse practitioners that authority. WU
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