The growing need for qualified nurses

Mount Mary University launches a RN to BSN completion program for nurses with a unique focus on leadership.

Real-time relevance
New health and wellness offerings illustrate responsiveness to community needs

In a recent all-university address, President Eileen Schwalbach, Ph.D., urged the Mount Mary community to "dream boldly with me," to envision initiatives that will enhance the wellness of the region.

A number of new health care initiatives are set to move this mission forward. These new programs open up opportunities for students while responding to the needs of the community and alleviating a looming shortage in the workforce of tomorrow.

Value-driven health care
This fall, the University will add two new courses of study, food science and a RN to BSN completion program for nurses with associate degrees who want to complete their BSN. The nursing program is designed to address the need for leadership among health care professionals.

Health care reforms taking place on a national level have affected the structure of health care delivery, and nurses will be on the forefront of this change, said Mary Beth Kingston, executive vice president and chief nurse executive at Aurora Health Care and a member of Mount Mary's Board of Trustees.

In the past, payment for health care was based upon volume - more procedures meant greater reimbursement for a health care system - but now, a much greater focus is placed on the value of the work as measured by improved outcomes.

Hospitals face financial penalties, for example, based upon value-measures such as complications, readmissions or infections. They receive financial incentives if value scores are positive.

"Health care delivery is moving from illness to wellness," Kingston said. "Our goal is to become partners in health instead of episodically performing health care."

While doctors continue to fill an important piece of the puzzle, the future will see a team-based approach in which nurses, dietetics and nutrition experts, physical therapists, social workers and other professionals play a much larger role as the focus shifts from treating illness to preventing it through nutrition and screening and better proactive care.

The growing need for qualified nurses
As care becomes more reliant upon nurses, the need for higher education becomes even more important. A benchmark study on the future of nursing by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation conducted in 2010 recommended that 80 percent of all nurses should hold a BSN degree by 2020. According to 2014 figures, the current percentage of nurses holding BSN degrees is 44.1 percent.

"Research has demonstrated that a higher percentage of nurses with BSN improves outcomes," Kingston said. "We want theses nurses providing care."

As it stands, "nurses are the least educated of the health care team," said Christine Olson, who was instrumental in launching Mount Mary's nursing program. She will join the University as assistant professor and chief nurse administrator for the spring semester. Other health care professionals have extended their learning programs to a master's level. Occupational therapists, for example, typically hold master's or doctoral degrees, and physical therapists are now required to have a three-year doctor of physical therapy degree.

Yet nurses are uniquely positioned to make a major impact because of the intimate role they play in healing, and the trust they inspire.

"We are the most trusted profession; we already have the respect of the patient," said Olson.

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