The complexity and effectiveness of health-care delivery in the U.S. has greatly increased due to advances in technology, an aging population and the Affordable Care Act's focus on wellness.
This sparked a landmark report over five years ago by the Institute of Medicine, which called for 80 percent of nurses to hold a minimum of a bachelor's of science degree in nursing by 2020.
The report examined how nurses' roles, responsibilities and education must change to meet the needs of a complex, evolving health care system. Bachelor's programs educate nurses to work at the nexus of art and science — the art of managing the care of a multitude of individuals from a host of backgrounds while applying the science of competent and compassionate care.
Research has shown that the level of a nurse's education is directly linked to patient outcomes.
Researchers at the University of Kentucky College of Nursing conducted a survey, which was recently published in the Journal of Nursing Administration, to see if Kentucky is meeting the institute's goal and found that only 40 percent of Kentucky nurses have at least a bachelor's degree.
This is not good news for patients in Kentucky. Although the gap between the current reality in Kentucky and the goal is wide, Kentucky has a strong history of facing and overcoming challenges and this one is increasingly important to address.
Many of Kentucky's nursing programs are helping to close the workforce gap for degree-prepared nurses, but more work is needed.
Now more than ever, we have a responsibility to promote nursing and advocate for what is best for our patients.
Kentucky nurse leaders must not be silent; they must change the landscape of the nursing workforce by:
■ Creating organizational policies that help and mentor nurses to return to school.
■ Assisting students with tuition support, developing seamless transitions between associate and bachelor programs, and creating partnerships between academic programs and the health care industry.
■ Developing strategies for all health care professionals to manage workforce planning.
The health and welfare of Kentucky's most valuable asset, its people, is at risk unless strategic priorities are set to advance quality of care, such as developing creative practice, education and policy solutions to help nurses attain degrees and ensure Kentucky's patients receive the best, most up-to-date care. They deserve nothing less.