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Peter Buerhaus Speaks at ECCNL Event

June 18, 2010

Speaker: Nurses 'need to step it up'
The Daily Reflector
Friday, June 18, 2010

With the looming effects of national health care reform and an aging work force, nurses need to increase their involvement in public decisions, a health care economist from Vanderbilt University told a local group Friday.

Peter Buerhaus, director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Health Workforce Studies at Vanderbilt's Medical Center, spoke to more than 100 health care workers at the Greenville Hilton on the major issues facing the nursing industry.

"We need to step it up," Buerhaus said. "Not just for our self interest, but for those that we are serving: the public."

Buerhaus said nurses are viewed by the public and private sectors and policy makers as important to lifestyle quality and overall safety, but nurses do not have an active enough role in setting public policy. He said more nurses need to serve on boards and commissions and get involved in making decisions that affect the health care industry.

There are 900,000 nurses in the United States older than 50. Buerhaus said the trend of declining numbers of young nurses, which defined the work force for two decades, has finally begun to reverse itself.

He predicted that the average age of the registered nurse work force will be two years younger by the end of this decade. This is a positive sign as officials expect health care reform to create more demand for health care workers in the coming years.

"It is a strong and healthy trend but it has to grow," Buerhaus said.

Buerhaus reminded the audience that the physician work force is closely tied to the nurse work force. He is expecting to see a 50,000-200,000 shortage of doctors by 2020.

He cited overall projections of a younger nurse work force and improvements in workplace conditions as positive trends for the industry, but challenged the health care professionals in attendance to continue to improve the situation for America's nurses.

Buerhaus' talk wrapped up a two-month workshop sponsored by the East Carolina Center for Nursing Leadership. The workshop began in April with a two-day conference and included three online courses. The conference had 42 participants from more than 20 eastern North Carolina health care organizations including hospitals, nursing homes, public health departments and community colleges.

This story appeared at on 20 June 2010.