Panel: Nursing industry continues to evolve

( Nursing has come a long way from bedside care by family members.

Once considered “women’s work” that was unpaid and lacked training, nursing now plays a pivotal role in the health care system — and it continues to evolve.

Glens Falls Hospital celebrated National Nurses Week with a panel discussion last week about the profession’s history and future.

The panel, which included local nurses, nursing educators and industry advocates, discussed the shifting health care environment and the push to raise the educational bar.

In late 2010, the nonprofit Institute of Medicine released “The Future of Nursing,” a report that said nurses should achieve higher levels of education and training and become full partners with physicians and other health care professionals in redesigning health care.

The institute wants 80 percent of nurses to have a bachelor’s degree by 2020 and has called for doubling the number of nurses with doctorate degrees, as a shortage of nursing educators is expected.

The U.S. has more than 3 million nurses, representing the largest segment of the nation’s health care work force. And as health care shifts away from acute care in hospitals to a community-based model, leaders say nurses will have a big role in case management, wellness and chronic care.

“Who else among the health care disciplines is better poised to address those needs?” asked Cathryne Welch, executive director of the Foundation of New York State Nurses and co-chairwoman of a state action committee organized to put the recommendations in place.

Welch told the Glens Falls Hospital audience Wednesday that the 80 percent goal is a tall order, but not impossible. She believes in advancing nursing education and says the Institute of Medicine’s support elevates and validates issues for which the nursing industry has long advocated.

“This presents an opportunity of a lifetime for the nursing profession and us as members,” she said.

About 43 percent of RNs in the U.S. have completed their bachelor’s degrees, according to Glenda Kelman, a professor and chairwoman of nursing at The Sage Colleges. At Glens Falls Hospital, about 20 percent of the nursing staff have bachelor’s degrees.

To help nurses locally advance their education, The Sage Colleges has partnered with hospitals, including Glens Falls, to offer reduced tuition and on-site classes.

Glens Falls Hospital has also partnered with Excelsior College.

Donna Kirker, vice president of patient services and chief nursing officer, noted the misperception that advancing education will cost nurses jobs. In fact, she said, the hospital is building educational partnerships with Sage and Excelsior to help its 700 full- and part-time RNs obtain their bachelor’s degrees. The hospital also offers employees tuition reimbursement and flexible scheduling.

These programs extend to licensed practical nurses, whose positions are being phased out as part of a larger industry trend to staff hospitals with RNs.

Glens Falls Hospital has a five-year plan to eliminate about 100 LPN positions while adding RNs, who can legally perform more tasks.

Current LPNs have been encouraged to go back to school and complete their registered nurse education by 2017 through the same educational partnerships.