Viewpoint: Healthcare policymakers ignore nurses at peril of us all

For a universal healthcare system to succeed, leaders must focus on the expertise of nurses, a global health center director wrote in a STAT op-ed.

Four insights from the op-ed, written by Ilona Kickbusch, PhD, director of the global health center and adjunct professor at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland:

1. A report published by the World Innovation Summit for Health and the UHC Forum 2018 found universal healthcare will not be attainable without nurses and midwives, but policy approaches to universal healthcare tend to ignore the health workforce and the role nurses play in delivering high quality care.

2. In leaving out nurses, policymakers are missing several important points, Dr. Kickbusch said. First, nurses are the largest contingent of the global health workforce, making up about half of its ranks, and account for about 80 percent of the contacts between patients and providers.

"Given how big a group they are, bringing nurses on board to help implement universal healthcare could arguably be considered half the battle," Dr. Kickbusch wrote.

3. Additionally, nurses have the right training to highlight what's needed to deliver universal healthcare from a prevention and treatment perspective.

"Investing in nurses will improve services as well as bolster health promotion and disease prevention — both vital levers in the heavy lift of delivering universal healthcare," Dr. Kickbusch said.

4. Nurses also can help manage the epidemic of noncommunicable diseases, since they often have close ties to communities and an understanding of local cultures. Additionally, nurses have the power to help change behaviors that cause noncommunicable diseases by encouraging patients to exercise more, cut back on drinking alcohol and quit smoking, Dr. Kickbusch said.

"For too long, nurses have been underutilized and under-resourced. Realizing the huge nursing dividend is the key to delivering on the promise of health for all," Dr. Kickbusch wrote.

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