Now, a bill has been introduced (HR 4601) before the House of Representatives, calling for the establishment of the Office of the National Nurse. This bill before the 111th Congress---is named "The National Nurse Act of 2010, and will serve as an amendment to Title XVII of the Public Health Service Act.
Some history of the Surgeon General and the drive for an Office of the National Nurse:
Since 1871, the Surgeon General of the United States---the nation's "chief health educator"---has overseen and guided the health of Americans. Charged with overseeing the U.S. Public Health Service, the Surgeon General is appointed by the President and approved by Congress for a four-year term. According to the official website of the Surgeon General, this individual's duties include, but are not limited, to:
- Protect and advance the health of the Nation through educating the public, advocating for effective disease prevention and health promotion programs and activities, and, providing a highly recognized symbol of national commitment to protecting and improving the public's health
- Articulate scientifically based health policy analysis and advice to the President and the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) on the full range of critical public health, medical, and health system issues facing the nation
- Provide leadership in promoting special Departmental health initiatives, e.g., tobacco and HIV prevention efforts, with other governmental and non-governmental entities, both domestically and internationally
- Administer the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) Commissioned Corps, which is a uniquely expert, diverse, flexible, and committed career force of public health professionals who can respond to both current and long-term health needs of the Nation
- Provide leadership and management oversight for PHS Commissioned Corps involvement in Departmental emergency preparedness and response activities
- Elevate the quality of public health practice in the professional disciplines through the advancement of appropriate standards and research priorities, and
- Fulfill statutory and customary departmental representational functions on a wide variety of federal boards and governing bodies of non-Federal health organizations, including the Board of Regents of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, the National Library of Medicine, the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States, and the American Medical Association.
The goal of the organizations and individuals behind the drive for an Office of the National Nurse is "to elevate and enhance the Office of the PHS Chief Nurse to bring more visibility to the critical role nursing occupies in promoting, protecting, and advancing the nation's health."
The proposed role of the National Nurse would be to:
- Assist in the initiation of a nationwide cultural shift to prevention.
- Bolster efforts to focus the public on healthy living.
- Intensify roles for nurses, including students and retirees, in community health promotion.
- Provide greater support to the Surgeon General in calling for improvements in health literacy and reduction in health disparities.
- Encourage all nurses to spread prevention messages in their communities.
- Encourage participation of nurses in Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) units.
- Provide leadership to network with existing volunteer health promotion efforts.
- Strengthen linkages with providers, nursing programs, and public health leadership.
- Serve as a visible national spokesperson for professional nursing.
- Increase public awareness of nursing roles and contributions.
- Enhance nursing recruitment and education throughout all communities.
- Support and justify additional funding for nursing education, research and service.
It is the opinion of many involved in the call for the establishment of the Office of the National Nurse that it is time for nursing to have a seat at the nation's healthcare table. While some might argue that the aforementioned Chief Nurse Officer of the U.S. Department of Public Health already adequately fulfills that role, most still see that role as one of subservience to the Surgeon General rather than one of professional equality. Just as nurses are rarely consulted by the media for their expert opinions vis-a-vis the various challenges faced by the nation and its beleaguered healthcare system, the government also fails to fully utilize nursing's unique and crucial input to the fullest extent possible, in the interest of the health and well-being of the American people.
The establishment of the Office of the National Nurse would set a new standard for a more accurate and realistic recognition of nursing's importance to health and healthcare in the United States. If the federal government enthusiastically and publicly embraced nursing, making its crucial contributions crystal clear, perhaps the public, the media and the private sector would all then have a greater understanding of, and appreciation for, the multitudinous ways in which nursing impacts the health of millions of Americans.
Most importantly, however, the establishment of this office would certainly bring an important voice even more strongly to the ongoing conversation about health and health care in America. A National Nurse could, in effect, deliver a unified message of preventive health at a time when millions of Americans---including millions of children---live without health insurance or access to regular primary care. At a time of crisis and uncertainty vis-a-vis the health of the country, the Office of the National Nurse could very well be a welcome, stabilizing and empowering voice of reason and prevention.
I fully support the passage of HR 4601, and I urge readers of Digital Doorway to contact their representatives in order to urge them to support this important health care legislation. For more information, please visit the website of the National Nurse Campaign, join their Facebook page, or make a donation to the campaign.
I fully support the passage of HR 4601, and recognize that the time for a National Nurse has indeed come. Perhaps 2010 will see this campaign finally come to fruition, and we will all benefit greatly from such a long-awaited outcome that will positively impact the health and well-being of the entire nation.