Nurses can improve health equity by addressing social needs in clinical settings, social factors of health in the community, and advocating for patient needs and policy changes.

Our society trusts nurses more than any other professional—just look at the annual Gallup Poll ratings. Over the past two decades, Americans have ranked nurses #1 for honesty and ethical standards. So, who better to help reshape the health equity landscape in this country, right?

While nurses are well-positioned to address social needs and advocate for patients at the individual and system levels, they need the support and resources to do so. The ongoing staffing shortage has put a tremendous strain on the profession. Nurses are working longer hours and taking on larger patient loads than they should—and they're burning out.

How can nurses effectively care for others and tackle social injustices when they don't feel cared for or supported in the workplace?

Nurses, and their patients, must have a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. For this to happen, the country needs to invest in building nurse capacity, and healthcare employers must find new, creative ways to help nurses thrive.

Defining Health Equity

The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) defines Health Equity as "the state in which everyone has the opportunity to attain full health potential, and no one is disadvantaged from achieving this potential because of social position or any other socially defined circumstance."

While access to equitable healthcare is essential to achieving health equity, more is needed. Health is affected by many factors, including housing, transportation, nutrition, physical activity, education, income, laws and policies, and discrimination. Since 2020, the American Nurses Association Code of Ethics has obligated nurses to be allies and advocate against racism, discrimination, and injustice.

As a more accessible and personal touch to a patient in need, nurses are critical to improving health equity. Nurses understand the benefits of health promotion and disease prevention and have the distinct opportunity to educate each patient who crosses our path.

How Nurses Can Improve Health Equity

There are many opportunities for nurses to improve health equity by addressing social needs in clinical settings, social factors of health in the community, and advocating for patient needs and policy changes.

1. Patient Advocacy

The nurse case manager working to safely discharge a patient home from the hospital after a complicated stay is intimately aware of the challenges faced in meeting their patient's needs. Their advocacy for a safe discharge is imperative in breaking down the barriers of health inequity.

2. Open Communication

Communicating appropriately with people about social needs can be difficult. Training is required to ensure patients feel comfortable responding to personal questions about housing instability, domestic violence, and financial insecurity.

3. Nurse Education

Health equity must be embedded into nursing school curricula and practiced by nursing leaders as they mentor the future healthcare workforce.

4. Nurse Advocates in Policy

At the individual and family levels, home care and community-based nurses often represent the first line of healthcare providers with sustained engagement in addressing the social needs of many individuals.

Public policies significantly influence healthcare providers, systems, and the populations they serve. Accordingly, nurses can help promote health equity by bringing a health lens to public policies and decision-making at the community, state, and federal levels.

Because nurses are on the frontlines of patient care, they can provide informed insight into existing health disparities in communities and, with this information, help to shape policies and guide community advocacy.

Nursing Burnout on Health Equity

As the nursing shortage continues, more nurses want to leave the profession and are less likely to recommend the job to family and friends.

Our 2022 Annual State of Nursing Report found that nurses likely to leave the profession within the next two years said they might reconsider under the right circumstance, with 93% of those nurses surveyed indicating they want is control over their schedules.

Therefore, the healthcare industry needs to take better care of nurses, so they can advocate for change, fight for health equity, and continue their reign as the most trusted professionals in the country.

ShiftMed is uniquely positioned to help prevent nurse burnout while allowing healthcare facilities to maintain optimal nurse-to-patient ratios and provide quality patient care. Our nursing jobs app gives CNAs, LPNs, and RNs the power to choose when, where, and how often they work, while our Portal gives facilities access to credentialed healthcare professionals on demand.

Author: Brittany Williamson, RN

Brittany is the Director of Nursing at ShiftMed with more than 15 years of experience in healthcare. Her healthcare career began as a community-based social worker, where she quickly found her passion for helping individuals navigate the complicated healthcare system to meet all their needs. She has worked as an RN at several large health systems in the Midwest and found a love for navigating care for the most medically complex patients while working in the post-acute care continuum. Brittany is committed to supporting nursing professionals by providing the resources and education needed to maintain the highest quality of care in this dynamic and ever-changing healthcare field.