(Los Angeles — February 18, 20112) With more than three million nurse professionals in the United States alone, nursing is the largest segment of the healthcare industry and touches every facet of care from the doctor's office to home care to hospitals. And as the nation continues its historic effort to overhaul healthcare, nurses have been implementing their own brand of healthcare overhaul as well.
"Over the past decade, nurses have been quietly working to redefine and expand their roles to the point where today they are impacting healthcare in ways most consumers aren't even aware," says Dr. Courtney Lyder, dean and professor of the UCLA School of Nursing. "Nurses have been championing quality-of-care improvements, spearheading research innovation, advocating for patient rights and generally challenging the status quo. Simply put, their impact has been enormous and will continue to be so over the coming decades."
In the area of clinical research, for example, Lyder points out that much of the care patients receive in a hospital is based on research by nurses. "Nurse research is influencing every aspect of care, from infection control and epidemiology to pain management and end-of-life care. Nursing research provides the basis for clinical care practices that are widely adopted as best practices by physicians, hospitals and insurers," Lyder says.
Recognizing nursing's growing influence, organizations such as the National Institute on Health, the National Cancer Institute and many leading foundations have bestowed grants to nurse researchers at major nursing schools around the country. Through these grants, nurse researchers at top-tier nursing schools such as UCLA, John Hopkins, University of Pennsylvania, Yale and the University of Virginia are focusing on such areas as disease prevention, pain management, improving quality of life, and palliative and end-of-life care. They are helping to build the scientific foundation for clinical practice and developing knowledge that will one day lead to disease prevention and the better management of symptoms caused by illness.
Nurses are impacting national healthcare policy as well. Led by national nursing associations, nurse academicians and nursing leaders, nurses are strong advocates in the support of patient rights and over the last decade have had their voices heard on key issues such as staffing levels, patient satisfaction, patient safety, affordability, access to care and quality of care.
So, too, nurses are increasingly working with the patient and their family when it comes to complex ethical issues such as end-of-life care, holistic, alternative or natural medicine, and legal and policy issues impacting care. "Nurses are dedicated to treating the whole person and easing their suffering," says Lyder. "They are the patients' greatest advocate; and they understand and respect the patient's desires and fears, demonstrating unbiased compassion for every patient's rights."
Looking beyond American borders, nurse leaders are today collaborating with policy makers, administrators and researchers in places as far away as China, India and Africa. Through an international exchange of ideas and collaborations, nurses are addressing important health challenges such as tobacco control, HIV/AIDS research, and patient safety and are pushing the scientific, medical and ethical frontiers as never before.
"Whether working locally with underserved immigrants, conducting research in the refugee camps of Sudan, or working to end gender-based violence in Rwanda, nurses are increasingly a force for social justice as well," says Lyder. "Working to engage governments, policy makers, and entire communities, nurses facilitate communication on important topics – such as the right to education, the right to income-earning opportunities, and freedom from gender-based violence – helping to connect the dots between human rights and improved health."
One of the reasons for nurses' impact can be attributed to the changes in the profession itself. Years ago most nurses could only earn an LPN (licensed practical nurse) designation, but today nurses enjoy greater opportunities for advanced education. Many nurses today hold a bachelor's, master's or a doctorate degree. In addition, today's nurses are more specialized than ever before and, like physicians, are choosing to specialize in such areas as geriatric medicine, medical-surgical nursing, pediatrics, intensive care, labor and delivery, and psychiatric nursing.
"Nurses continue to be the heart and soul of medical institutions across the U.S. and around the world," says Lyder. "They are changing healthcare for the better and are having a direct, positive impact on the lives of individuals and families."
The UCLA School of Nursing is redefining nursing through the pursuit of uncompromised excellence in research, education, practice, policy and patient advocacy. Ranked among the top nursing schools in the country by U.S. News and World Report, the school also is ranked No. 7 in nursing research funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and No.1 in NIH stimulus funding. In 2010-2011, the school received $24 million in total research grant funding and was awarded 26 faculty research grants. The school offers programs for the undergraduate (BS), postgraduate (MSN and MECN) and doctoral (Ph.D.) student. For more information, please visit the website at nursing.ucla.edu.