How Nurses are Affected by the Health Care Reform Law

The Affordable Care Act may well usher in one of the most exciting eras of nursing in the United States in a generation. While it added more administrative duties and outcome-based accountability to all levels of health care, it has prompted more people, many of whom had previously shunned health care (or couldn’t afford it), to seek treatment.

Consequently, an expanding pool of primary care positions is opening more patient care opportunities for nurses at all levels. In fact, it is shifting nurses’ role in health care.

Consider what is happening in rural Nebraska, where a dearth of physicians has opened opportunities for nurse practitioners.

“In one of my normal days, I'll see half a dozen colds. I will see patients with multiple chronic illnesses -- C.O.P.D., diabetes, asthma,” nurse practitioner Faylene Dancer, who works in Sutherland, a town of about 1,300, told Nebraska’s PBS and NPR stations.

Dancer’s direct care allows her patients, many of whom have mobility issues, to forego traveling long distances to visit physicians. Her care has upended many people’s perceptions of the role of a nurse in health care.

Patient Sandy Conrad told NPR: “When Faylene took over, it was a blessing. There isn't anything that they [nurse practitioners] can’t handle.”

As exciting as that sounds, it still leaves many nurses and other healthcare professionals wondering how they can satisfy new healthcare regulations and still provide the high-quality patient care that originally drew them to nursing.

It all comes down to training, according to research by professors at Loyola University New Orleans School of Nursing.

As part of a vital discussion about how nurses can best juggle the many demands of their careers, including regulations imposed by healthcare reform, members of Loyola’s nursing faculty produced “Understanding Career Trajectory: A Degree Alone Is Not Enough”, which examined the many variables that determine nurses’ professional career and standing.

The paper, which was recently published in the International Journal of Nursing & Clinical Practices, studied nurses’ propensity to seek out and engage in activities that lead to skill development. The authors looked at what prompts nurses to increase professional qualifications and secure practice experiences that will propel their careers toward leadership roles in direct-care, noting that confidence and mentorship are essential determinants of career advancement.

One clear-cut bonus for nurses prompted by health care reform: more funding for education. The Nursing Student Loan and the Nursing Workforce Diversity grant program, federal programs that fund nurses’ RN and undergraduate education, are pumping resources into nursing education. It doesn’t stop there. A myriad of new grants and funding for advanced nursing education are also providing financial assistance, according to Loyola educators.

To take advantage of such opportunities, though, nurses must rely not only on training but they must continually re-educate themselves, both formally and informally, about the shifting shape of healthcare reform.

The best way to do so is to make a regular habit of joining and participating in professional development. The American Nurses’ Association has launched Health Care Reform Resources, which provides the basics as well as continual updates on how The Affordable Care Act impacts nurses.

Other must-dos include downloading and following nurse apps and following nursing blogs and Listservs from well-known nursing publications and associations.