The Florence Nightingale Museum in London has a voice recording of the founder of modern nursing, captured on July 30, 1890, by the Edison Co. As a nurse, it's a thrill for me to hear Florence: "When I am no longer even a memory, just a name, I hope my voice may perpetuate the great work of my life."
As a nurse during the Crimean War, Florence faced unimaginable hardships. Today's nurses are up against 21st century hardships, including COVID-19 and unrelenting staffing shortages. May is the month when nurses everywhere are recognized for their contributions. In fact, the American Nurses Association has joined the World Health Organization in declaring 2020-2021 the Year of the Nurse.
We Americans did a pretty good job of recognizing front-line health care providers during the depths of the pandemic last year. We need to keep it going, because in many ways, nurses are the oil that keeps our health care machinery running.
More is demanded of nurses than ever before. They collaborate with each other and with other professions to ensure the best care for their patients. They foster mutual respect and shared decision-making to achieve positive health care outcomes. With all of these responsibilities, nurses are way underpaid, and burnout and turnover are high in many health care institutions.
We are also seeing a shortage of nurse educators -- an unfortunate trend at a time when we need to train and prepare more future nurses. Today, the registered nurse (RN) designation is often the first step in an educational journey that leads to bachelor's, master's and even doctorate degrees.
If you ask nurses why they chose their profession, you will hear many reasons. Nursing has been consistently rated as the "most respected profession" by people, according to Gallup. Nursing has many educational paths. Emergency technicians and licensed practical nurses can progress through RN, BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) and additional programs, providing many more career options.
Career flexibility is another draw. Nurses who experience burnout now have more choices to change their work lives without leaving nursing. Here are a few examples of nursing options:
• Patient advocate: I know many nurses who love patient care, but are exhausted by the health care system. Their experience with the system, though, gives them an abundance of the knowledge and resources they need to guide patients in their health care options by becoming patient advocates, and there is more demand from patients than the industry can meet. Some nurses are stepping out of the hospital with an entrepreneurial spirit. They're starting their own patient advocacy companies where they can control their hours, their pay and their clientele and still have rewarding careers.
• Telehealth nurse: At the start of January 2020, virtual medical appointments, or telehealth, accounted for less than 1% of all doctor's visits. By April, it was more than two-thirds of the total. Changes in Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance opened telehealth to more Americans than ever, and even when the pandemic subsides, there will be no going back.
There is some pending Illinois legislation, called Nurse Licensure Compact, in the House and Senate that I support. In Illinois, a patient only has access to care by Illinois licensed nurses. In 34 other states, including all states bordering Illinois, patients living in a "compact" state have access to care by nurses who live in a "compact" state. The "compact" not only increases patients' access to telehealth services, but also greatly increases an Illinois nurse's employment prospects and professional opportunities. "Compact" passage would allow an Illinois nurse to not only have an Illinois nursing license, but also have a nursing license in 34 "compact" states. Illinois nurses possessing multistate licenses makes them much more attractive to companies hiring nurses to perform telehealth services across the country. The "compact" also allows nurses to better respond to public health emergencies, including disaster relief assistance. Additionally, the majority of Illinois nurses are age 55 and older and many have a disability preventing them from meeting the physical rigors of doing in-person nursing. "Passing 'compact' in Illinois would allow disabled nurses to greatly increase their employment opportunities by being able to practice telehealth across state lines in other 'compact' states," says John Heraty, public policy liaison with the Case Management Society of America-Chicago. "It also allows nurse educators to teach students in 35 states instead of just Illinois."
You can find more information and a map of participating states at www.nursecompact.com. In Illinois, bipartisan legislation is pending as House Bill 580 and Senate Bill 2068. Chicago's Case Management Society of America (www.cmsa-chicago.org/nlcyes) is leading the fight.
• Nurse practitioner: Among the fastest-growing health care profession is nurse practitioner, which the U.S. Bureau of Labor predicts will grow by 52% by 2029. NPs are independent practitioners who come from a nursing perspective when treating patients. Nurse practitioners utilize their nursing backgrounds to holistically care for their patients. NPs also hold a doctorate of nursing practice degree, which emphasizes the nursing component of advanced practice.
I encourage those interested in a medical career to pursue nursing. You will have the potential to improve not only the health, but also the lives, of people in your community, much as Florence Nightingale did in hers.
• Teri Dreher is a board-certified patient advocate. A critical care nurse for 30+ years, she is founder of NShore Patient Advocates (www.NorthShoreRN.com). She recently created a three-month training course for nurses who wish to become patient advocates (see nurseadvocateentrepreneur.com). You can contact her at (312) 788-2640.