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Advancing Patient Safety Through Nursing Education

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There are a host of threats to patient safety in today’s uneven access to and delivery of quality, affordable healthcare throughout our nation’s complex healthcare system. But nursing education is working to develop strategies and solutions to prepare nursing graduates to lessen risk and increase the quality of care as they transition to practice.

Dr. Beverly Malone

President and CEO, National League for Nursing

Dr. Beverly Malone is president and CEO of the National League for Nursing, the leading voice for nurse faculty and leaders in nursing education, based in Washington, DC.

Our nation’s healthcare system has a way to go before it can deliver universal, equitable, and affordable care that America’s patients, families, and communities deserve. Among the realities contributing to the present situation:

  • Social determinants of health, such as food deserts, air pollution, limited access to clean water, and geographic distance from healthcare facilities
  • More severe and frequent natural disasters that disrupt community services
  • Nurse burnout, aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to early retirements and staffing shortages in hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare facilities
  • Lack of diversity and inclusion in the nursing workforce, impacting equitable access and treatment options

Addressing the issues

There are initiatives in place that are having a positive, if uneven, influence on the quality of healthcare delivery, and patient safety and empowerment. For example, it has long been accepted wisdom that patients can respond more positively to caregivers who share their ethnic, cultural, and gender/sexual identities, and that caregivers from marginalized segments of our population bring greater sensitivity to the needs of their patients.

To date, there are still too few nurses in the workforce who represent these communities, so we must step up efforts to increase the pipeline of qualified students accepted into nursing programs, along with the recruitment and retention of more minority faculty to serve as role models and mentors.

Another trend affecting patient safety has been a reported increase in burnout, a factor nurses cite in the decision to retire. With fewer nurses to care for patients, the threat to safety is obvious and only creates a vicious cycle by making burnout more likely.

One strategy that’s helping to counteract burnout, poor communication, and other workforce safety risks is to create cultures of caring, acceptance, and civility on campus and within clinical environments.

There must be zero tolerance for bullying and harassment on the part of the school administration, or of harmful interactions between faculty, faculty and students, students and other students, students and staff, and staff and patients. Poor interpersonal skills that go unchallenged in an academic environment may become learned behaviors that can put at risk patient safety in the healthcare setting.

A community of educators

Several years ago, the nursing education profession started a national dialogue to build a community of nurse educator colleagues filled with caring, collaboration, communication, competence, and courage — leading to a culture of civility. It is my firm belief that building and sustaining civility within the academic community is important for nurses, nurse educators, students, staff, and patients.

As the most trusted profession in America according to Gallup, nurses and nurse educators will continue to lead the way in advocating for the very best in advancing the quality of care and safety of the patients we serve.

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