Nurses a Big Part of AARP? Yes, Because Nurses Are a Big Part of Health

Older patient talking with nurse in hospital

It has been awhile since I’ve been asked why AARP has a center devoted to nursing. Maybe that is because it’s been a part of AARP long enough that by now people know. After all, it has been 12 years since the Center to Champion Nursing in America began its mission to see that people—all people—have access to a nurse when and where they need it.

With National Nurses Week on the horizon, it is a good time to reaffirm our commitment, and explain why you will be seeing stories about nurses and nursing policy on AARP’s policy blog and in the AARP Public Policy Institute’s newsletter. Just as we should not take nurses for granted, neither should we stop celebrating the reasons the profession is so important to America’s health and thus a focus of our work at AARP.

Some may have heard of our nursing center because the national campaign we run, the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action, which has made progress on multiple fronts since its founding in 2010. Both the Center to Champion Nursing in America (CCNA) and the Campaign for Action are initiatives of AARP Foundation, AARP, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The trio behind CCNA makes sense, and why we support nurses is clear: Nurses, who represent health and caring, embody the mission of both AARP and AARP Foundation to help people 50-plus seek and create wellness in all aspects of life. RWJF is devoted to building a culture of health and health equity.

Our efforts address the fact that the U.S. outspends every country on health care, yet its residents have shorter lives and poorer health. Nursing is one clear way for America to address its health care woes. At 4 million strong, nurses are by far the largest part of America’s health care workforce; furthermore, for 17 years in a row, Americans have told Gallup that they trust nurses more than any other profession.

Nurses, who are woven into the fabric of the community in ways other health practitioners are not—in schools, workplaces, homes, prisons, hospitals, assisted living facilities, and other community spaces—are positioned to be a more powerful part of improving health and health equity.

CCNA is dedicated to making this happen.

Much of our work through the Campaign for Action is guided by a 2010 report from the Institute of Medicine that laid out clear recommendations for how to strengthen the profession to match America’s health needs. The IOM (now the National Academy of Medicine) urges health professionals, policymakers, educators, businesses, consumers and others to rethink nurses’ roles in America’s health care system.

The recommendations included how to transform nursing education, expand diversity, and increase the number of nurses who serve in leadership roles on boards. The IOM also issued a call to change laws to improve people’s access to high-quality, affordable care.

It is that recommendation especially—the first one listed in the IOM report—that points to why CCNA is part of the Public Policy Institute: For greater health and health equity in this country, change needs to come from the top as well as from the grassroots.

The laws that affect Americans when it comes to nurses are those that restrict nurse practitioners from providing as much care as they can—that is, nurses are stymied by law from treating patients to the extent of their training and education. To be clear: Nurse practitioners are registered nurses who have a master’s or doctoral degree and are trained to diagnose and treat patients, make referrals, and prescribe medications. Yet many states hinder nurses from providing much-needed primary care, despite decades of evidence demonstrating that they provide as high quality of care as physicians.

AARP believes that consumers deserve full access to the care nurses provide. As critical as nurses are to our country’s health, we know that we will not be able to effectively care for our aging population unless we can tap into the full potential of this powerful workforce.

From a policy perspective, we’re working with many offices throughout AARP to strengthen the profession. We have the grassroots covered too: Through the Campaign for Action, CCNA works with Action Coalitions in every state and D.C. These Action Coalitions work with AARP state offices and dozens of other community partners to support a more diverse, highly educated nursing workforce, as well as laws that will allow more consumers access to health care.

National Nurses Week runs May 6-12. That week, and every week, when you thank a nurse, remember that the person caring for you is part of a potential solution that would greatly ease America’s health care problems. And know that CCNA will keep pushing, through policy and in other ways, to make the most of this great and caring profession.

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Susan Reinhard is AARP senior vice president and the director of the AARP Public Policy Institute and chief strategist at the Center to Champion Nursing in America. Her areas of expertise include aging, family caregiving research, Medicare, and Medicaid.

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