Nurses playing crucial role in American health care

(PennLive) The Issue: National Nurses Week was last week.

Our Opinion: The community should take a moment to salute its nurses, who are an integral part of health care both in and outside of hospitals.

We would have to look long and hard to find someone in Berks County who has not been cared for by a nurse, a nurse practitioner or a licensed practical nurse at some point in life.

And if we found one, we guess that that person knew someone who had been tended to by a member of the nursing profession.

So it is against that backdrop and in honor of the recent National Nurses Week that we recognize all in the nursing profession who have come so far since Florence Nightingale founded the modern nursing movement.

Nurses are becoming more important to health care because of industry trends, economic issues and changes in the law. This has led to an overall shortage in nurses on the national employment scene. The situation is being addressed locally thanks to training programs. There are registered nursing and bachelor’s degree programs at Reading Hospital and Alvernia University, which recently joined forces. Kutztown University and Reading Area Community College also offer programs. The size of nursing classes in all these schools is growing along with interest in the field.

Nurses today are considered more than underlings or secretaries for doctors. They are part of a patient’s medical team and are consulted along with the primary care doctor, the hospitalist, surgeons, specialists, physical and occupational therapists and even pharmacists. Nurses themselves are becoming advocates for patients, studying patient histories and, because they are on the front lines, are able to catch and prevent possible mistakes in medications.

Because the trend in health insurance is for shorter hospital stays and for home care for the elderly, nurses are doing more in-home care.

Nurse practitioners and physician assistants can write prescriptions and do most of the routine things doctors can do, thus easing some of the pressures on the system and filling the void left by dwindling numbers of family doctors and general practitioners.

Nurses aren’t just generalists anymore. All require continuing education, and many require certification in a specialty, such as surgery, pediatrics or trauma. As was recently reported in the Reading Eagle, some nurses even are trained in the specialty of collecting forensic evidence from rape victims to be used by law enforcement in court cases.

Along with all the other changes in the profession, technology has changed nursing in ways that still are being measured.

As The New York Times reported in January: “In just a few years, technology has revolutionized what it means to go to nursing school, in ways more basic – and less obvious to the patient – than learning how to use the latest medical equipment.

“Nursing schools use increasingly sophisticated mannequins to provide realistic but risk-free experience; in the online world Second Life, students’ avatars visit digital clinics to assess digital patients.

“But the most profound recent change is a move away from the profession’s dependence on committing vast amounts of information to memory. It is not that nurses need to know less, educators say, but that the amount of essential data has exploded.”

We hope that the use of technology doesn’t replace the personal care members of the nursing profession are known for and that attracts men and women to the profession.

It is that personal care that we and other members of the health care profession depend on.