A Clarian Call for Nurses to Join Forces with the National Nurse for Public Health

Did you know there was a Chief Nurse Office of Public Health?

Today, with advances in research, innovation, and technology we now save the lives of people with rare, complex and chronic medical conditions who previously would never have had a chance to survive. Yet, at the same time, we continue to allow chronic, preventable diseases to plague our country.

We are learning that social determinants of health are one of the root causes of escalating healthcare costs throughout the United States. We know nutrition, living conditions, education, and transportation impact a person’s health and their ability to care for themselves. Traditionally these socioeconomic factors have not been part of the differential diagnosis for most physicians, but are part of the nursing assessment that helps build the patient’s plan of care.  

Our healthcare system is excellent at treating advanced and complex conditions. But too often we fail to address the root causes of illness. Often we miss the opportunity to provide lifelong health education that could potentially save billions of healthcare dollars and transform what kind of healthcare will be available for the next generation.

People are expected to absorb a great deal of information regarding their health and healthcare, yet they often receive minimal instruction or support. The results point to escalating costs because people, our patients, do not navigate the complex healthcare system safely or efficiently without relying on assistance from the people who work in it.

So what is the solution? No easy answer can be suggested in this article because of the complex nature of our current healthcare system. It will take leadership from those on the frontlines who provide care, particularly our public health leaders, to propose new and innovative ideas to reduce costs and improve access.

On the practical side, there is innovative federal legislation currently working its way through Congress. The National Nurse Act of 2019 is a way for nurses to lead a sea change and address many of the issues contributing to the challenges the country is facing in healthcare.  

In a nutshell, the National Nurse Act gives the Chief Nurse Officer (CNO) of Public Health, also to be known as the National Nurse for Public Health, the ability to mobilize the country’s four million nurses in a coordinated way to address issues that impact the nation’s health. By doing this, easy to understand health promotion and prevention guidelines can be disseminated that will help in implementing policies mutually agreed upon by the Surgeon General and the CNO.

Nurses comprise the largest sector of the healthcare workforce and every one of them is poised to lead a national movement towards improving public health.  The National Nurse for Public Health would provide the uniting voice and leadership to do so.

The National Nurse Act of 2019 calls for Congress to designate the same individual serving as the Chief Nurse Office, a current position in the U.S. Public Health Service, as the National Nurse for Public Health.

Let’s pause here for a question: Did you know there was a Chief Nurse Office of Public Health? Do you know what he/she does? Exactly! Not many nurses, let alone the general public know who the Chief Nurse Office of Public Health is or what role this leader fulfills. Let me introduce you to the Current Chief Nurse Officer of Public Health.  

The primary reason for designating the CNO as the National Nurse for Public Health is to elevate and enhance this critical position and to bring visibility to the essential role nurses have in promoting, protecting, and advancing the nation’s health.  

So Why is a National Nurse for Public Health Needed?

These are just a few reasons. Additional supporting evidence is listed on the National Nursing Network Organization website. Please take a moment to review this data. By allowing nurses to practice at the top of their licenses we have the ability to slow the growing epidemics of preventable conditions.

  1. The obesity epidemic continues to worsen.  In 2015-2016 the prevalence of obesity was 39.8% and affected about 93.3 million US adults. A 2018 study found that an average of 8.2 percent of Medicaid dollars go to treating obesity—with some states spending more than 20 percent of their Medicaid dollars on treating obesity and related illnesses. A widely recognized National Nurse for Public Health encouraging practicing nurses and other health professionals along with students enrolled in health professional programs to participate in health promotion activities in their local could have a tremendous impact.  
  2. Also, it is known that six in ten Americans have at least one chronic disease, like heart disease, cancer, stroke, or diabetes. Many don’t have the education or resources to manage these conditions effectively. This leads to severe complications that compound their conditions and contribute to escalating healthcare costs due to unnecessary hospital admissions and ED visits. A coordinated campaign promoting the dissemination of evidence-based practice focused on prevention has tremendous potential to save dollars and reduce suffering.
  3. Our country is close to the worst outbreak of measles in 25 years.  Think how powerful a National Nurse for Public Health could be in helping to deliver coordinated evidence-based messages to the public about measles prevention coupled with facts to dispel the myths about measles vaccines. 
  4. In 2015, the economic cost of the opioid crisis was $504.0 billion, or 2.8 percent of GDP that year. This is over six times larger than the most recently estimated economic cost of the epidemic. The opioid epidemic is taking the lives of many, not only by death but by incarceration. As one of the Surgeon General’s signature efforts, having nurses on the team would assist in a cultural shift in the way Americans talk about the opioid crisis, prevent and treat opioid misuse and promote recovery.

What Will the National Nurse for Public Health Do?

This seems to be the biggest stumbling block for groups that want to remain neutral or who are opposed to the National Nurse Act. We ask everyone to read the bill before making a decision about an endorsement.  So many people have made false assumptions on what they think the bill will accomplish simply because they haven’t taken the time to read this legislation. Please take a few minutes to read the National Nurse Act so you know for yourself what the bill states.

The current duties and responsibilities of the current Chief Nurse Officer are retained, with the exception of preparing a biennium report on the nursing category of the Commissioned Corps of the USPHS. As a national advocate for nursing actions, the Chief Nurse Officer will continue to champion public health in all communities, but this unique designation National Nurse for Public Health, will not only highlight and this nurse leader’s work but also the importance of the entire USPHS.   

Designating the Chief Nurse Officer of the USPHS as the National Nurse for Public Health via Congress may seem like a lofty goal, considering the current political climate.  It is not. Currently, this legislation is endorsed by over 110 national and state nursing organizations, labor representing nursing, and key stakeholders. Additionally, there is strong bipartisan support that includes 93 cosponsors for the House version of the bill, (including 15 members of the California Congressional Delegation) and 6 cosponsors for the Senate companion bill.  

Nurses are the backbone of the healthcare system, and together we can do so much. Isn’t it time that nurses used their voice to advocate for the cornerstone of our practicehealth promotion and prevention- regardless of our educational background, practice setting, or specialty? The National Nurse Act is common sense and requires no additional funding to implement. If you agree, then please join in support of the National Nurse Act for Public Health.

To learn more please visit the National Nursing Network Website. There are links available to help you take action and sign up for the newsletter that provides updates on the bill’s progress. You may also follow the campaign on Twitter at @aNationalNurse.


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