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Reform reshapes focus of training nurses of tomorrow

By Deloras Jones and Mary Duffey

Published in Modern Healthcare on February 7, 2011—It goes without saying, at least to those of us in the nursing profession, that the evolving needs and skills of today's and tomorrow's nurse must be adequately addressed before it is too late. We find it encouraging that throughout the nation, the dialogue about doing just this is reaching new heights, with much of the discourse stemming from ongoing efforts to develop clear guidelines for what must be done within this sector to adequately address healthcare reform and changing patient-care needs.

One such example is the Institute of Medicine's recently released report on the future of nursing. The IOM calls for an educational redesign that would ensure seamless progress from associate degree nursing to baccalaureate degrees and a doubling the number of nurses with a doctoral degree. These steps are necessary to produce a better-educated nursing workforce that is prepared to be responsive to the demands of healthcare reform.

Already states are working on initiatives that will address some of the recommendations put forth by the IOM. In fact, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation hosted a national summit last year to launch the implementation of the recommendations.

All of this effort represents necessary and positive progress toward improving the largest segment of healthcare's workforce. In addition to these important measures, however, we as an industry must look at ways that we can easily and effectively make improvements concurrently with the existing momentum, rather than awaiting the results of ongoing efforts. We must explore how we can adapt to emerging healthcare trends and changing patient needs with the tools and resources currently available.

One success story that is creating positive results throughout the country is the use of web-based tools. These streamline clinical and faculty placements, thereby improving efficiencies and increasing transparency for entire regions. The Nursing Resource Center is a specific example of a suite of online tools that has proven effective in increasing the educational capacity within specific regions, which is an important point, given that change is most assuredly going to take place on a regional level.

The NRC increases the visibility of potential and unused clinical sites, as well as opportunities for nursing faculty placements. Its tools directly address educational and nursing capacity by offering a direct, real-time ability to find and act on clinical placements of nursing students and placements of instructors into nursing schools and instructional programs. 
In a broader sense, however, what the NRC does is reflective of the emerging needs of our industry: It provides an infrastructure that fosters greater collaboration and convergence of the entire nursing community within a region with the common goal of increasing capacity, in the clinical setting and in the classroom.

The NRC, like similar products on the market, was borne of the nursing shortage, which continues to be a significant concern. By many estimates, the U.S. will need an additional 260,000 registered nurses by 2025, mainly because of pending retirements and increase demands from the aging population. Healthcare reform and the need for nurses to help close the gaps to access to care will cause another surge in vacancies.

The NRC offers not only greater transparency of the clinical and faculty placement processes, resulting in greater efficiencies for the agencies and organizations using it, but it also represents the type of regional collaboration that is needed to truly make an impact on the future of nursing capacity in the U.S.

Hospitals, nursing schools and clinical agencies throughout the U.S. have been using this system for years to increase their regions' nursing education capacity. In California's Bay Area, the results have been clear—a 2009 study indicated that this resource was a factor in increasing the region's nursing student enrollment by 47% over the course of five years. Also, the region was able to make 700 more placements of students into clinical rotations than in 2004, thanks in large part to the greater transparency and visibility of available opportunities made possible by the system.

In the Greater Cincinnati region, the NRC serves the local nursing community in a variety of ways. The Tristate Nursing Resource Center not only allows users to find clinical placement opportunities and nursing faculty openings, it centralizes the region's nursing news and updates, nursing job inquiries, student simulation and even online student orientation materials.

The Tristate NRC has helped the Greater Cincinnati Health Council Workforce Center to adapt the tools to its regional needs, with impressive results. After only one year, Tristate NRC schools decreased the time it takes to place students from 28 hours a week to just over three hours. Hospitals also experienced a 57% drop in the hours dedicated to student placement. Simply put, the Tristate NRC has allowed staff members to lower costs and focus on the more important tasks of helping patients and teaching the nurses of tomorrow.

As one of the individuals involved in the creation of NRC and one of its current users, we have the first-hand experience to understand the system's clear value and benefit to nursing. But this article should not be viewed as something as simplistic as a sales pitch. Our argument goes deeper than that: Those involved in all aspects of the training of future nurses must effectively collaborate to bring about true reform. The NRC simply provides one proven and cost-effective means toward that end.

By taking action now with tools such as this, hospitals and clinical agencies throughout the country can work collaboratively with local nursing schools to broaden the impact of their efforts to prepare an expanded and well-prepared nursing workforce that can truly adapt to the needs of 21st-century healthcare.

Deloras Jones is the founder and executive director of the California Institute for Nursing & Health Care. Mary Duffey leads the Workforce Center at the Greater Cincinnati Health Council. Both are registered nurses.


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