"Who better to educate Americans about how to take better care of themselves than nurses?" - Teri Mills, MS, NP
With the swoop of her pen, Teri Mills caught the attention of nurses, health care professionals, media, the public and legislators. Armed with her knowledge that millions of Americans are without health insurance, that health care costs have escalated drastically and that preventable conditions such as diabetes and other chronic illnesses have reached epidemic proportions, she visualized the establishment of an Office of the National Nurse (ONN) to address these problems. She put her idea into words published by The New York Times, May 20, 2005.
A Top Nurse
Mills is a nurse practitioner who teaches nursing at Portland Community College in Oregon. She believes nurses must be a part of the solution to the current health care crisis and called for the establishment of a National Nurse.
Appointed at the federal level, the National Nurse would work side by side with the Surgeon General to educate and focus the American public on prevention and wellness.
The ONN would plan and deliver a weekly broadcast on wellness and healthy lifestyles. Each week, a different nurse specialist would be invited to participate and deliver these messages, since it's not possible for a single nurse to be the expert on everything. Topics could include "How to Have a Healthy Heart" or "Get Ready, Get Set, Get Fit." All of the information given would be put on the Internet in multiple languages to reach a diverse population.
Mills suggested that individual states have a nurse coordinator and an additional public health nurse. These nurses would help assemble teams of nurses to organize and deliver four educational programs yearly in their own communities. Each of the country's nearly 3 million nurses would be invited to volunteer for a National Nurse Team.
U.S. Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA), a nurse and leader of the 56-member Congressional Nursing Caucus, a staunch advocate for the nursing profession, had favorable comments about the National Nurse concept.
"The National Nurse is a great idea to improve health awareness and promotion at the community level. A National Nurse also would be a tremendous advocate for nursing issues as we face a growing shortage," she noted.
Adding that she is pleased Mills brought the idea to her, Capps said she is "working to introduce legislation early in 2006."
Lillian Gonzalez, RN, nursing advocate and activist, also supports the proposal. "Who can better encompass body, mind and soul into a comprehensive, thoughtful care plan? Who can better advocate for a person's health care rights and support a dying person's wishes?" she asked. "Who do people most depend upon to interpret what physicians tell them? And, according to recent polls, who do people trust the most? The answer to all of these questions is nurses!"
Most nurses around the country have responded positively to the proposal. But some have expressed concern. One individual felt creating a National Nurse position could give the impression that there's only one national nursing message.
However, Mills and other advocates stated that the National Nurse wouldn't replace other nurse leaders or national organizations, but would work with these groups to deliver nursing's message of health promotion and prevention to the entire nation. Many feel this is an idea whose time has come.
Gonzalez contacted each state nursing organization and received no negative responses. One nurse did say that the leader of the American Nurses Association (ANA) should speak for all nurses. "But his concern subsided once he understood the National Nurse would not replace any nurse leaders," Gonzalez noted.
Saying other nursing issues are of primary concern, the ANA points out that the legislation to create the ONN has not been proposed yet.
"In considering the ONN, the question is not whether the creation of an office designed to raise the profile of our profession is a good or bad idea, but whether it is the best way to effect the change we all so desperately want, both within nursing and in our nation's health care system," commented Michelle Artz, ANA Government Affairs associate director.
While the ANA welcomes all opportunities to gain visibility for nursing, Artz explained, it continues to focus on existing avenues toward change in the profession, such as advancement of nursing legislation, empowerment of nurses to run for public office, and enhanced involvement of all nurses in the legislative and political process. The organization encourages all nurses in this country to become involved as ambassadors for a positive change in health care.
"If only a fraction of our nation's 2.9 million RNs became involved in this debate, even in the smallest way, our collective voice would be an unstoppable force for positive change for our profession, our patients and our nation's crumbling healthcare system," Artz stated. "While nurses may benefit by having an ambassador in a National Nurse, ANA believes this single person could never be as powerful as the millions of registered nurses, who comprise the largest group of healthcare professionals in the country."
However, advocates for the ONN believe that a National Nurse will help Americans understand what a nurse does, because they'll hear from nurse specialists weekly and because having more nurses in high-profile positions will assist in recruitment efforts by attracting others to the nursing profession.
You can learn more about the National Nurse by visiting www.nationalnurse.org.
Anne Nowlin is a freelance writer from Huntley, Ill.