In May of this year, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, released, “The Future of Nursing 2020-2030: Charting a Path to Achieve Health Equity.” This long-awaited blueprint for the future of nursing, along with two other instrumental reports, “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health,” published in 2011, and “Assessing Progress on the Institute of Medicine Report on the Future of Nursing,” published in 2016, focus on the role of nursing to address the problem of health equity for all people in the United States. What makes the 2021 report unique is that it comes to us during the greatest healthcare crisis the U.S. has experienced since 1918 with the COVID-19 pandemic. Health inequity is a catalyst fueling our already broken healthcare system, with the issue needing to be addressed head on by nurses, if we are to find a remedy. But how can we do that? The answer is innovation.
Innovation is defined as creating something new or different, or introducing something known in a new or different way. It’s not always about inventing a light bulb. Innovation often adds efficiency or effectiveness to current processes or technology, and then brings renewed value. Sometimes innovation can be unsettling, taking a known situation and adding in a new element to disrupt and upset in order to add a perceived value. Innovation may borrow knowledge from one discipline and move it to another. And while sometimes innovation must and can be radical, it may focus on creating a completely new concept or system from which to transform the situation or process.
Without a doubt, innovation involves change, but nurses are experts at implementing change. We’ve demonstrated this over and over again throughout the past year and half, battling a raging pandemic. We’ve had to innovate new ways to provide care to the sickest patients through new care delivery models. We repurposed known technologies and integrated new ones into our current practice and in our clinical education methodologies so that nurses could be quickly cross trained to care for these new COVID patients.
As we look to address the issue of health equity in this country, we need to be innovative in our thinking too, to bring about change. We need to think differently about how we educate our nursing students and practicing nurses alike about the social determinants of health, inclusion, diversity and equity. We need to find new ways to continually support these concepts in our workplace and intuitions, for all of our clinicians, administration, faculty and students. Without this innovation of thought we will never be able to fully address the underlying issues of our patients.
We need to change our current care models and shift from disease-focused to wellness- and prevention-focused models, as we transform the where and the how we deliver care, as the care setting moves from an acute environment into the community and into peoples’ homes, in some cases with telehealth. Our healthcare organizations need to catch up and begin to focus more on immersing themselves into the community to provide support services for all of the diverse populations living there.
Health equity is a right for all persons. And as nurses we care for all without judgement. Nurses can and will lead a disruptive, and possibly radical innovation movement that’s needed to ensure health equity is available not just for some, but for all.