In May 2021, the National Academy of Medicine released its next iteration of the Future of Nursing report: 2020–2030: Charting a Path to Achieve Health Equity. In it, the academy calls for nurses to lead a stronger, more diversified workforce to promote health and well-being to their colleagues, patients, and communities and to address the structural racism and systemic inequities that have fueled widespread health disparities.

Nancy Houlihan, MA, RN, AOCN®, ONS president
Nancy Houlihan, MA, RN, AOCN®, ONS president

Since the Future of Nursing report was first issued in 2011, we’ve arrived at a greater understanding of the critical importance of health on all aspects of life, particularly social determinants of health (SDOH), health equity, and health outcomes. The evidence is building on SDOH’s effects on cancer risk, incidence, screening, and access to cancer care and health outcomes.

We’ve seen greater recognition of nurses’ role and the pandemic’s impact on their well-being. Social injustice and the rampant disparities that led to disproportionate death rates during the pandemic reinforced the need for nurses to strengthen workforce capacity and healthcare expertise to achieve health equity.

The report identities nine desired outcomes for achieving health equity through collaboration, education, research, leadership, workforce diversity, public health measures, and diverse care settings. Of particular relevance to ONS, it calls on nursing organizations to develop a shared agenda to contribute to improvement in health equity and to reflect an orientation of diversity, equity, and inclusion within and across their organizations.

ONS is an active member of the American Nurses Association’s (ANA’s) Organization Affiliates (OA). A 38-member group, the OA represents specialty nurses in the ANA. ONS Past President Laura Fennimore, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, is the OA liaison to the ANA Board of Directors and also serves on the National Commission to Address Racism in Nursing.

The commission’s mission is to “set as the scope and standard of practice that nurses confront and mitigate systemic racism within the nursing profession and address the impact that racism has on nurses and nursing.” It’s developing four work groups—education, practice, research, and policy—that will create specific strategies to address racism in those areas. The OA and constituent and state nurses associations submitted more than 50 subject matter experts to serve on the work groups, which will report outcomes at the commission’s monthly meetings.

ONS is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusiveness. The Board of Directors and staff have worked closely to integrate those values across the organization, and in 2021 we are launching a Board, staff, and member committee to guide those efforts. The ONS committee will advance the commission’s goals, the Future of Nursing 2020–2030 report, and the desired outcomes.

Nurses are the key health professional in correcting health inequities. “A nation cannot fully thrive until everyone—no matter who they are, where they live, or how much money they make—can live the healthiest possible life, and helping people live their healthiest life is and has always been the essential role of nurses.”