The evolving role of nurses – and what has stayed the same

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More often than not, when a patient stops to tell me about his or her experience receiving services from Providence Care, the key component of the feedback is not a critical review of the actual, technical care interventions we provided. Rather, they focus on how our staff made them feel, how comfortable they were in our hospitals or long-term care home, or how they were treated with respect and compassion.

I began my career in healthcare as a nurse.  As we focus on Nursing Week this month, I am reflecting on the huge opportunity we have as to influence the patient experience each and every day.

The role of the nurse is evolving beyond traditional bedside care, and it is exciting. Few other professions offer such a wide range of specialties, work environments, and opportunities. At Providence Care, nurses are leading quality improvement, championing new technologies and advocating for vulnerable populations.

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For example, Providence Care’s nurses are improving the experience of patients with pressure ulcers. Over the past few years, our nursing staff have led initiatives to reduce the severity of these wounds amongst our inpatients and residents. Their work to review best practices, analyze our data, listen to and understand the needs of the people we serve has paid off. We’ve seen improvements in both the quality of care we’re able to deliver, and cost reductions because of more efficient use of our resources.

This is just one example of nurse-led quality improvement – there are hundreds more. Recently, Providence Care celebrated the groundbreaking of the Napanee Area Community Health Centre, where our community mental health teams will be co-located with other local health services. It’s the third service “hub” we’ve been a part of establishing in past years, thanks to the connections, commitment and hard work of many frontline caregivers, including nurses as well as Allied Health staff and physicians.

Long-term care is another exciting frontier for nursing, with new roles for Advanced Practice Nurses and Nurse Practitioners, as well as nurses with specialty training in areas like mental health. We continue to strengthen our Seniors Mental Health outreach and mobile response teams at Providence Care. Nurses on these teams work alongside the staff at long-term care homes to observe and assess residents who require behavioural supports (due to dementia or other illness), and help create care plans that are person-centred and meet their needs. The impact is, in many cases, fewer visits by long-term care residents to the emergency room, and an improved care experience for the resident and often their families as well.

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People often speak about how complex our health care system is, and how nurses can be navigators for patients who are transitioning between providers or trying to understand where to go to receive the right level of care. I’ve referred to several examples of how nurses are now working “beyond the bedside” to make a difference.

And yet, when I think about the role of the nurse and how it has changed and grown since I began my own career as a frontline staff at a Toronto hospital, there’s a key piece that’s still the same.

Like all of us who work in healthcare, at Providence Care and across the system, the biggest way we make a difference in the lives of patients by providing great care, and that has not changed since I graduated from nursing school. . As nurses, there are opportunities every day to think about what we can do for individual patients, clients and residents, to enhance their lives and improve their wellbeing.  While our profession is evolving, it is founded on compassion – and we continue to see that lived out today.