The Illinois Center for Nursing estimates that by the year 2020, there will be an estimated shortage of 21,000 nurses in Illinois.
"With the aging population and how sick people will become, we need more educated nurses," according to Sharon Canariato, executive director at the Illinois Organization of Nurse Leaders.
"It's not a U.S. phenomenon. We find these relationships [nurse education and staffing] consistently having benefits in terms of all of the outcomes for all of the patient populations that we looked into," said nursing professor Matthew McHugh of the University of Pennsylvania.
A recent European Registered Nurse Forecast (RN4CAST) study McHugh helped conduct found that a nurse's workload and educational background affects patient mortality in hospitals, especially after surgery. The study showed that higher workloads and a nurse's lack of a bachelor's degree both show a statistical relationship to higher numbers of deaths in a hospital.
These findings echo nursing studies conducted in the United States, and it shows that regardless of country or community, this is a call for a "system-wide intervention," according to McHugh.
McHugh explained that the findings from this study support other studies’ evidence about staffing and education. “I think that these are attractive interventions because they are system-wide. It's not just for some small subset of high-risk patients,” McHugh said.
To conduct the study, they obtained data from more than 420,000 patients from 9 countries, as well as analyzed responses from more than 26,000 nurses. They examined the relationship between nurses' workload as well as their educational background after taking into account the patients risk of death.
Registered nurses, the focus of the European study, included nurses with associate degrees or a diploma in nursing, baccalaureate degrees, master’s degrees or doctorates in nursing.
"I think that the evidence certainly points toward and falls in line with a large body of evidence particularly around staffing and education; that decisions at the hospital level on the types of different nurses ultimately makes a difference," McHugh said.
After the Institute of Medicine released a report called "The Future of Nursing" in 2010, an initiative launched around the country to change the role and responsibilities of nurses to meet the increased demand for health care. Each state was requested to make their own action committees, and in Illinois, the aging population and projected need for nurses pose a particularly difficult struggle, according to Canariato.
To address the needs, Illinois Healthcare Action Coalition released a status report in January that included updates on the seven workgroups and subcommittees that meet monthly or bi-monthly to make progress on their goals to benefit the future of the nursing community: education, leadership, practice, data, interprofessional collaboration, diversity and capacity building.
While each pillar has a number of goals, the education workgroup specifically works with figuring out how to increase education for nurses in Illinois.
"For the first time in Illinois, associate degree and bachelor’s degree nurses are coming together to work on ways to make it easier for nurses to have the seamless transition of education," Canariato said, who is the chair for the leadership workgroup.
According to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, as of March 7, there are 135 Illinois approved nursing education programs. These include 53 practical nursing degree programs (Licensed Practical Nurse), 48 associate degree programs (Registered Nurse), 29 baccalaureate programs (Registered Nurse), 4 master's entry level program (Master's of Science of Nursing), and one hospital program.
"Nursing is very much based on evidence. If the research is showing that increased education is leading to better patient outcomes, it's our responsibility in nursing to increase the level of education," Canariato said.