I like January, when I can see a whole new year stretching out ahead of me. As I write this, 2009 is winding down, and I'm hopeful that the pall recently cast by a bad economy, record unemployment rates, the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, vitriolic debate over health insurance reform, the H1N1 pandemic flu, and generally hard times for too many people will disappear with the flip of the calendar page. A new year seems rich with potential. People are newly resolute about their New Year's resolutions, and there's a shared optimism about getting down to business and making good on the opportunities that present themselves.
This new year presents nursing with tremendous opportunities. For one thing, the profession is increasingly in the public eye. Three television shows currently feature nurses as central characters. Although in my view, none of these shows hits the mark when it comes to portraying nurses' work accurately, the nurses on Nurse Jackie, Hawthorne, and Mercy are big improvements over their earlier, one-dimensional counterparts. (The one shining exception was nurse Colleen McMurphy on China Beach, a series that ran from 1988 to 1991.) I don't think this is happenstance, but rather the result of a concerted and deliberate effort by nurses and their supporters over the years. The Raise the Voice campaign of the American Academy of Nursing (www.aannet.org) has brought nurses' work into the foreground, informing policymakers and the public about nursing's innovators and highlighting their successes. Advocacy Web sites such as the Center for Nursing Advocacy (www.nursingadvocacy.org) and more recently The Truth About Nursing (www.thetruthaboutnursing.org) have been relentless in responding to unfavorable portrayals of the profession. Health care journalists are finally realizing that nurses have a perspective unlike that of physicians or hospital administrators—one closest to the point of care, allowing nurses an up-close-and-personal vantage point. (Our message to journalists: talk to a nurse or you might miss the best part of the story.)
The role of nurses has also been gaining ground in health care reform talks about how to provide cost-effective care that yields good outcomes and satisfied patients. Major initiatives like Transforming Care at the Bedside (see our November special supplement at www.tinyurl.com/TCABajn) have enabled nurses to make visible changes that make a real difference to patients. Policymakers are finally beginning to take notice.
In this month's Viewpoint, Ellen T. Kurtzman and colleagues from the School of Medicine and Health Sciences at The George Washington University make the case for a renewed effort by nursing to "influence policies that affect the quality, safety, and value of health care," and announce the formation of the Nursing Alliance for Quality Care (NAQC). With a two-year grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the NAQC will work to unite nursing organizations, health care consumers, and others in pushing for change that focuses on patient safety and high-quality health care. (For more information, contact NursingAlliance@gmail.com.)
Also in this issue is a series of articles about a collaborative effort by several groups, including the AARP's Center to Champion Nursing in America, the RWJF, and the U.S. Department of Labor, to address the crisis in nursing education capacity. At two summits convened last year, teams of stakeholders from various states shared information and began framing new strategies aimed at developing the future nursing workforce. This first article reports on these summits; future articles will detail state strategies and partnerships that have proven successful.
Our profession needs to make its voice heard more strongly than ever, especially now, when policy changes are reshaping the future of the health care system.