Johns Hopkins’ Dean Emerita Talks Future Of Nursing

CHAUTAUQUA – Despite economic and educational constraints, the necessity – and relevance – of nurses has never been more salient.

On Thursday, Martha N. Hill, dean emerita of Johns Hopkins University and professor of nursing, medicine and public health expounded on this salience at Chautauqua Institution’s latest lecture series – “Health Care: From Bench to Bedside.”

Hill gave an impassioned defense of the nursing profession, describing in particular the evolving face of the nurse, from the sweet, white-garbed caretaker to the resilient, tech-savvy multi-tasker.

“Nothing much is the way it used to be,” said Hill, showing recent photos of nursing students looking younger, more diverse and immersed in technology than ever before. “Why are all nurses on television portrayed as bimbos? Nurses do more than you think … and the need for them today is great and unrelenting.”

Hill, who encouraged nurses to seek all forms of higher education, showed concern over potential obstacles to students, namely a lack of financial aid and scholarships – a result of the economic recession – that has essentially stifled interest in nursing programs.

Moreover, since a lot of schools are unable to expand the capacity of their nursing programs, many students who apply are simply rejected.

“There is a nursing shortage,” Hill said. “It’s a supply-and-demand system. The demand has never decreased … but there’s concern over the supply.”

Hill further insisted that a typical nurse is overworked and often considered a “jack-of-all-trades,” who is relied upon to take care of all patient documenting – a task that takes nearly 40 percent of their time and pushes them away from their patients’ bedsides.

“These jobs are physically demanding … there needs to be task sharing,” said Hill, indicating that nurses should not be solely responsible for every menial task in the room, but rather only the tasks worthy of their education and training. Doing this, according to Hill, will allow nurses to work more effectively and efficiently.

In her concluding comments, Hill encouraged the audience to be a “champion” for nurses and give them and their employers positive feedback on their work.

“It’s really impossible to think about medical care and the health care of people without realizing the centrality of nurses,” she said. “There are the most numerous of health care providers … and they are all at bedsides, everywhere.”