How Health Care Businesses Can Support the Future of Nursing

By Lorina Marshall-Blake

Nearly every day an exciting development or challenge in health care surfaces: new technology, novel ideas about how to control costs, improvements in patient care. Yet, as far-reaching as many of these advances may be in their ability to truly change health care for the better, one basic tenet remains unchanged. That’s the critical and integral role nurses play in keeping people well and caring for the sick or injured.

Most health care experiences start and end with a nurse, whether it’s an RN checking your vitals before a doctor’s appointment, or reviewing your discharge instructions after a hospital stay, for example. In addition, nurses often serve as strong patient advocates, the liaison between families and medical staff helping to ensure patients receive the care they need.

So, consider for a moment, what would happen if the number of trained nurses suddenly dramatically dipped?

According to the American Nurses Association (ANA), we are on the cusp of a serious nursing shortage. By 2022, the ANA estimates there will be far more registered nursing jobs available than any other profession — more than 100,000 per year. With more than 500,000 seasoned Registered Nurses (RNs) expected to retire by 2022, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the need for 1.1 million new RNs for expansion and replacement of retirees to avoid a nursing shortage. This shortage is especially problematic when you consider that there are fewer nursing teachers in our universities, and an aging U.S. population, which means more sick and hospitalized people.

Everyone benefits from a thriving and well-trained nursing work force, but no industry has a more vested interest than those of us who make our living in health care.



A helping hand to a future in nursing

There are many ways to support nursing, and a great number of organizations have contributed in a myriad of creative ways.  For example, more than a decade ago, Independence Blue Cross recognized that there weren’t enough prepared nurses entering the workforce and took action. The company created a nursing faculty program to offer grants to nursing students and educators in southeastern, Pennsylvania. That effort evolved into one of the Independence Blue Cross Foundation’s strategic initiatives — the Nurses for Tomorrow program. Since 2011, the Foundation has awarded nearly $9 million in nursing scholarship grants at the undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral level to 23 nursing schools, bolstering the nursing workforce by increasing the number of nurses pursuing faculty roles or clinical practice.

Learning that extends beyond clinical settings

Another innovative way to support nursing is to advance leadership among student nurse interns. Through internships, student nurses can learn about cultural and generational diversity in the workplace, the importance of professional networking, leadership, public speaking, and mentoring, among other highly desirable skills for today’s nurse.

Started by Independence Blue Cross in 2004, and carried on through the Independence Blue Cross Foundation since 2011, the Nursing Internship Program has provided summer internships to more than 230 nursing students. These students work in either a community health center, which serve as the primary care for many of our region’s under or uninsured, or at Independence Blue Cross. The interns who choose to spend the summer in our offices learn about case management; medical policy; quality management; and health informatics — subjects not always readily accessible in nursing school. Through these internships, these future nurses receive many opportunities to build professional competencies, and are exposed to career paths that extend well beyond hospital floors. By thinking creatively about what a health care business can offer to nursing students, the health care system is collectively strengthened.

Invest in nursing today

There is much value in creating opportunities for nurses to learn in traditional and non-traditional health care settings, to care for underserved populations, and to learn about the “business” of healthcare. There is also great value in helping prepare and encourage the next generation of nurses to pursue their dreams without the hardship of financial constraints.  But these are only a few ways businesses can support the next generation of nurses. Consider how your company can contribute to strengthening our nursing workforce. The investment will be a wise one for all our futures.

Rev. Dr. Lorina Marshall-Blake is President of the Independence Blue Cross Foundation and Vice President of Community Affairs for Independence Blue Cross. The Independence Blue Cross Foundation is a charitable, private foundation, whose mission is leading solutions for a healthier community. http://www.ibxfoundation.org

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