Anne Dillard: Moving up the nursing education ladder makes a difference

Nurse_patient healthcare doctor hospital

Betty walks into the hospital and works her way through the chairs to the reception desk where she is greeted by a nursing assistant. Betty is a new patient at the clinic. After check-in, Betty is called back by an individual whose name badge says “RN” – registered nurse. Once, Betty is placed in a patient room, she is seen by a family nurse practitioner who is there to discuss Betty’s health concerns and complete her exam. After a complete checkup and tests, the family nurse practitioner describes the results and provides Betty with her new prescriptions. Betty leaves and the various nurses that interacted with her will have charted the visit, which all goes to a physician for final review.

This is the healthcare scenario thousands of Alabamians experience every day. It is also the future of patient care in our state.

From obesity to diabetes to infant mortality, our state is facing a well-publicized health crisis. A major underlying problem is access to high quality, affordable healthcare. Nurses – at all levels of education – are integral partners of the patient care team. And to make healthcare in Alabama even better, nursing education advancement must be encouraged.

My name is Anne Dillard, and I have been nearly every level of nurse mentioned in Betty’s story. More than 25 years ago, I started my career in healthcare because I wanted to make a difference in the community. My entry into the healthcare profession was as an emergency medical technician (EMT) and paramedic near Gainesville, Florida. Workdays consisted of responding to everything from minor symptoms and broken bones to life-threatening injuries. Most calls for help meant assessing the patient’s needs and providing as much care as possible until we could get him or her to the emergency room. While I loved my job, I didn’t want to stop providing care at the hospital’s doors. I wanted to walk through with my patients and see them through their crisis to help them fully recover.

I decided to enroll in a local Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) program to be able to work inside the hospital. At the time, I still had to work while going back to school, and the two-year ADN program provided the greatest flexibility as well as being the most budget-friendly. After earning my degree, I served as a nurse for the next two decades, becoming an expert in caring for my patients. For all practical purposes, I knew how to be a good nurse but I did not fully comprehend the many details of how nurses with more education could change outcomes.

As an ADN, I could anticipate my patients’ needs, and I could recognize and care for complex symptoms. However, I did not fully understand as much as I wanted to about a patient’s symptoms or how a particular medicine affected the root cause of the patient’s condition. So I made the decision to continue my education to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).

I enrolled in the ADN-to-BSN program in Alabama while continuing to work at a local hospital. I often found myself questioning my decision. The financial benefits of a BSN versus an ADN were not a real factor when compared to the cost of attendance, and the long nights of studying after a full day of class and work were at times disheartening.

But the truth is this: my decision to continue my nursing education was not just about money or extra sleep. It was about providing the best possible care for my patients. After completing my BSN, I can honestly say I am better prepared to understand the complex needs of my patients and to work with other healthcare professionals in a collaborative approach to healthcare. That’s why a 2014 study by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing showed a 10 percent increase in the proportion of nurses holding a bachelor’s degree in an acute care setting was associated with a 7 percent decrease in patient risk after discharge.

Today, I have completed my Masters of Science in Nursing (MSN) and am currently enrolled in the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program in Alabama. The knowledge I gained at each educational step taught me not only more about patient care but also about the important role nurses play in our healthcare system everyday. Investing in continued nursing education does not simply help a nurse receive a degree, it means improving the access to and the quality of care all patients receive.

As an experienced nurse in a state facing healthcare crisis, I believe it’s time we do more to help aspiring and current nurses reach their educational goals. That’s why I support organizations like the Alabama Health Action Coalition who work everyday to improve nursing and healthcare in Alabama.

By encouraging nurses (and future nurses) in Alabama to advance their educational level we are preparing a strong workforce. These professionals will be ready to make a difference in the lives of more than four million Alabamians who rely on the healthcare system.

Anne Dillard began her career in healthcare as an EMT. She is now in a nursing doctoral program.


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