By Janie Magruder
GCU News Bureau
Nurses of the future will play a larger role in coordinating the care of patients, help lead large corporations in providing better health care options to their employees and use technology in dramatically different ways, GCU nursing students were told on Wednesday.
Dr. Marla Weston, CEO of the American Nurses Association (ANA) in Washington, D.C., met with a roomful of faculty and students in the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions in advance of her keynote address today at the biennial convention of the Arizona Nurses Association.
Weston, who began her nursing career in Phoenix nearly three decades ago and is a former executive director of the Arizona association, shared lessons she has learned during her career, and answered questions from students on the main campus and, via teleconference, at GCU cohort sites in Albuquerque, Phoenix, Sun City and Scottsdale.
“The transformation of health care and the Affordable Care Act is going to really expand opportunities for RNs,” said Weston, noting that a new ANA panel is exploring the future scope of registered nurses. “The independence of RNs is going to be pretty remarkable. Hospitals are beginning to understand the value of RNs in a way they didn’t when I first started.”
After Weston graduated from nursing school, she moved from Pennsylvania to Arizona, where she immediately had three job offers. She worked at two Valley hospitals in various nursing positions and, following her mother’s advice, took advantage of opportunities to advance.
“Part of it is taking risks, putting yourself out there, even when you’re not sure you can do it,” she said. “One of the most amazing things about nursing is that it’s a profession that can last your lifetime, and you can do so many different things with it.”
The job market for nurses, especially for those with bachelor’s degrees, remains strong, although in some parts of the country, a sluggish economy continues to impact their employment, Weston said. Fewer nurses will find jobs in hospitals as health care continues to move toward outpatient settings, she added.
“The jobs are all going to be in coordinated care,” Weston said. “We will need nurses working on the outpatient side to make sure patients don’t get readmitted. But we’re clumsy at this. We think coordinated care has to do with talking on the phone to people. That helps, but it doesn’t help as much as sending an RN to the home.”
In the future, nurses will have more autonomy in managing their patients’ health care, but they will need to be prepared to think and solve challenges in more creative ways, she said.
“If you look at history, there was a time when we were not allowed to use stethoscopes. There was a time when only physicians read EKG monitors,” Weston said. “The practice keeps evolving, and the most exciting part for nurses will be in this independence of decision-making.”
Just as technology has pushed forward many industries, so it will transform health care, Weston said. She predicted that treatment and diagnoses will be standardized internationally, and will require an international electronic database of health records. Nurses must adapt to that technology, she noted.
As reform occurs, nurses must have a more powerful voice in the national conversation on improving health care for Americans, Weston said. To that end, the ANA is working to place nurses on the boards of directors of major corporations.
On a smaller but no less important scale, individual nurses must rise above the “you’re just a nurse” stigma, and educate others that their profession is critical to the well-being of society, she said.
“It’s important for you to understand the powerful impact of what you do, and to teach people about it,” Weston said.
Contact Janie Magruder at 639.8018 or firstname.lastname@example.org.