The Need for Highly-Educated Nurses
In the 21st century, the health challenges facing the nation have shifted dramatically. The American population is older—Americans 65 and older will be nearly 20 percent of the population by 2030—as well as more diverse with respect not only to race and ethnicity but also other cultural and socioeconomic factors. In addition to shifts in the nation’s demographics, there also have been shifts in that nation’s health care needs. Most health care today relates to chronic conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and mental health conditions, due in part to the nation’s aging population and compounded by increasing obesity levels. While chronic conditions account for most of the care needed today, the U.S. health care system was primarily built around treating acute illnesses and injuries, the predominant health challenges of the early 20th century.
The ways in which nurses were educated during the 20th century are no longer adequate for dealing with the realities of health care in the 21st century. As patient needs and care environments have become more complex, nurses need to attain requisite competencies to deliver high-quality care. These competencies include leadership, health policy, system improvement, research and evidence-based practice, and teamwork and collaboration, as well as competency in specific content areas such as community and public health and geriatrics. Nurses also are being called upon to fill expanding roles and to master technological tools and information management systems while collaborating and coordinating care across teams of health professionals. To respond to these increasing demands, the IOM committee calls for nurses to achieve higher levels of education and suggests that they be educated in new ways that better prepare them to meet the needs of the population.
An Improved Education System
Much of nursing education revolves around