The American Nurses Association selected the theme “You Make a Difference” for this year’s National Nurses Month. This theme resonated during the pandemic and will continue as we continue to face COVID-19 variants and health care uncertainties.
Nurses serve in various roles—for example, primary care, home health, kidney dialysis care, hospital care, palliative care, hospice, and many others. Nurses have been and continue to be front-line champions of quality healthcare.
One emerging need is having dementia-competent nursing staff in all areas of nursing practice. As Washington state residents age, ensuring that all health care providers are dementia knowledgeable and dementia friendly is essential.
We must face this reality—there is a national health care staffing shortage. This includes nursing—we are experiencing a shortage of more than 6,000 Registered Nurses nationwide.
Aging and Disability Services (ADS) and some of our contracted agencies have nursing staff who work as nurse consultants. They play a key role in providing client, family, and caregiver education and support case managers with complex clients. Our nurses represent the communities they serve, and we are fortunate to have their skill, professionalism, and expertise.
Throughout my own nursing career, family, friends, and caregivers have asked me why many patients and clients appear more open to talking with nurses than they are with doctors and family members. I cannot answer for everyone; however, nurses are generally seen as trusted advocates, ensuring that individuals, families, and caregivers receive quality care and services. Nurses are trained in person-centered holistic care. We listen, look, and listen some more, not only to patients and clients but to their family members and caregivers.
In Washington state, we are fortunate to have several multicultural nursing organizations, including:
- Ebony Nurses of Tacoma
- Filipino Nursing
- Mary Mahoney Professional Nurses Organization for Nurses of African Heritage
- National Alaska Native American Indian Nurses Association
- Pacific-Northwest Chinese Nurses Association
- Samoan National Association
- Western Washington Chapter of the National Hispanic Nurses Association
Having multicultural representation is key for nursing practices today and into the future. We need greater representation—more nationalities and ethnicities, more men, more LGBTQIA+ individuals, more faiths, and more people from socioeconomic groups whose life experiences help them relate well to their clientele—moving forward.
One way to build the future workforce is to mentor and support young people in launching nurse training and careers. In April, the Healthcare Industry Leadership Table sponsored their third annual Sound Careers in Healthcare for high school students and young adults ages 16–24, helping them explore careers in health care. The virtual event encouraged participation from Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, low-income individuals, and first-generation learners in higher education.
As new and emerging immigrant populations arrive to our state, it will be even more important to have strong advocates and support among the nursing staffs. Training nurses from diverse backgrounds allows our profession to improve the quality of care. Patients will see that they’re cared for by people who truly understand their context. Nurses with lived experience like their patients’ have special insight into care that improves equity and health outcomes.
As we face a growing aging population, greater need for services and supports, and a healthcare professional staffing shortage, we must ensure we do what we can to support our nursing staff, particularly those serving our diverse community members.
“Nurses are rooted in strength, forged in fire, and growing in power. Rooted in strength, we create our new path forward as leaders in healthcare.”—Beth Wathen, American Academy of Critical Care Nurses
In whatever service area the nurse is working, we thank them for their strength, courage, and service!
Mary Pat O’Leary RN, BSN is a senior planner at Aging and Disability Services, Seattle Human Services Department. She extends her appreciation to Kristen Childress, DNP, ARNP, FNP-BC, AGNP-C, CWCN-AP, Associate Teaching Professor and Vice-chair of Education at the University of Washington’s School of Nursing, for her insight and valuable input into this article.