Officials with the American Nurses Association have commended the U.S. Congress for its action on the Nurse Reinvestment Act, a bill that promises to boost the nursing profession and stem the nation’s impending nursing shortage by recruiting more people into the profession and retaining more practicing nurses.
Once signed into law, the measure will authorize federal funding for scholarships and loan repayments for nursing students who agree to work in shortage areas after they graduate. In addition, the bill will include funding for public service announcements aimed at promoting nursing as a career, grants to encourage facilities to implement the American Nurses Credentialing Center Magnet Recognition Program criteria for excellence in nursing services, loan cancellations for nursing faculty and grants for geriatric care training. Separate versions of the bill were passed by both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives last December, and the final bipartisan agreement is expected to be passed by Congress next week.
"The Nurse Reinvestment Act will go a long way toward attracting more people into nursing and should help sidestep a looming shortage that is fast reaching crisis proportions," said ANA President Barbara Blakeney, MS, RN, CS, ANP. "This investment in the nursing workforce is crucial to the health and welfare of all Americans and will enhance the nation’s ability to respond to public health crises. ANA applauds the work of Congress for making nursing recruitment and education a priority."
According to Blakeney, the current staffing crisis and emerging shortage of registered nurses pose a real threat to the nation’s health care system. These factors, along with declines in nursing school enrollments, the aging of America’s nursing workforce and the potential threats associated with the nation’s war on terrorism, "are placing even greater strains on America’s nurses," she said.
Citing projections which show that the number of RNs per capita will fall 20 percent below requirements by the year 2020 – in part because fewer young people are coming into nursing while many older, experienced nurses are retiring – Blakeney said the legislation will help stem the shortage by increasing the number of people entering the profession and by funding programs to improve nurse retention.
Blakeney also commended provisions in the bill that will provide grants to health care facilities to implement criteria that recognize best practices for nursing services. "As the (American Nurses Credentialing Center) Magnet Recognition Program has demonstrated, health care institutions that are designated as magnet facilities have a proven track record of retaining more nurses for longer periods of time and improving patient-care delivery through more collaboration between nurses and other health care professionals, and more involvement by nurses in decision making," she said.
Noting that the action on the pending legislation represents "a good first step towards solving the problems we are seeing in nursing today," Blakeney added it is the hope of ANA officials this will be "the first of many bold strides taken to address the complex issues that are driving the nation’s nursing shortage" – including such unresolved problems as stressful, physically demanding and unsafe working conditions and mandatory overtime.
"The funding provided by the Nurse Reinvestment Act will help boost nursing school enrollments and the image of nursing as a valued profession – and that is encouraging," Blakeney said.
"But even more important, the bill also will enable practicing nurses to go back to school to increase their levels of education, thus ensuring that greater numbers of experienced nurses will be retained and that the nation’s increasing patient-care demands will be fulfilled."