by Shirley Orr, MHS, APRN, NEA-BC
The second and most recent report on the future of nursing, The Future of Nursing 2020–2030: Charting a Path to Achieve Health Equity, demonstrates the commitment of the National Academy of Sciences and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to champion a transformed system focused on health, where everyone has the opportunity to achieve the highest level of health without societal barriers. The report acknowledges that the real drivers of health inequities are complex and systemic issues including racism and other forms of implicit bias that block opportunity for optimal health for those who lack social privilege. While access to health care remains essential, access to health care does not equal health equity.
To chart the path to health equity, nurses must seek alignment with the real drivers of health inequities, the social determinants of health. Nurses can chart the path for health equity by leading efforts to improve the social determinants of health in neighborhoods, communities, states, and our nation by aligning our efforts to bring a health and social justice lens to policy and decision-making at all levels, including government and the private sector. Nurses can and should leverage their expertise and high degree of public trust to develop and promote policies that align with health equity – policies that support economic security, educational opportunity, healthy environmental conditions, safe and affordable housing, food security, and yes, access to high-quality, culturally appropriate health care.
Where can nurses best chart the course for health equity? Wherever decisions are made and policies are set into motion, including the boardroom. The Nurses on Boards Coalition has successfully supported the first 10,000 board seats filled by nurses; but we cannot stop there. We can fully align our efforts with health equity by serving on local and state boards of health, education, planning, economic development, and other policy boards. We can directly impact health equity by seeking elected office at local, state, and national levels. And perhaps most importantly, we all must align our efforts to achieve health equity by protecting and exercising our democratic right to vote.