MCN Talks is a bi-monthly series designed to give voice to different members of the Mennonite College of Nursing (MCN) community. Twice a month, faculty, students, and staff are asked questions related to healthcare, education, or life in the nursing program at Illinois State.

Health care is changing. Everything from the level of education of health care providers, to what patients are being treated for, to where patients are being treated, to how patients are paying for their care is being reshaped as a result of the changing health care environment.

How do you see health care changing?

Sandy Nielson, instructional assistant professor: I believe that we’re going to be seeing a lot more chronic illnesses in the United States. We’re also going to have more problems with infectious diseases as people live closer and are more mobile worldwide. In response to these things, I believe that there will be an increased need for ambulatory nurses at all levels. We’re going to be seeing an increased need for advanced practice nurse providers to make up for the lack of physicians, especially in rural settings. Because of the chronic illnesses, we’re also going to be seeing more patients going to doctors’ or nurse practitioners’ offices.

An increase in chronic illness

Chronic diseases have been on the rise for some time. According to an article by U.S. News and World Report, chronic conditions are among the leading causes of death in the United States and make up the majority of money spent on health care.

To combat chronic illnesses, many nurses have turned to educating their patients as a means of preventative health care. The Canadian Nurses Association states that nurses can educate patients on behavioral risk factors like smoking, unhealthy eating, and low physical activity. However, it is more complicated than just conveying information. In order to be successful, nurses need to be knowledgeable and must utilize a variety of techniques to effectively educate patients.

Mennonite College of Nursing’s Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) program is dedicated to ensuring that nurses receive the education that they need to administer effective preventative care. In the FNP sequence, students are exposed to education that focuses on preventative care measures, as well as diagnosis and management of chronic health conditions.

Teresa Valerio, instructional assistant professor: That’s a pretty broad question, isn’t it? America’s healthcare needs are becoming more and more complex. This is because of lifestyle choices, aging, lack of access to healthcare, our healthcare system’s lack of prevention focus or limited prevention focus, and high costs. I think everyone is aware of all of these issues. So, to effectively meet all of the complexities of our patients’ needs, nurses really need to be prepared at the very least at a professional level—a bachelor’s in nursing—and nurses need to have an advanced education to be able to lead improvements in our patients’ health outcomes.

It’s a changing world, but that is where we are headed education-wise in nursing. We are trying to get everybody up to the baccalaureate level as the entry to nursing practice. Then, the hope is to have some that choose to go on and get an advanced education. This is especially important for nurses who are in leadership positions. These nurses really need to move on through the masters to doctoral level education, similarly to our professional counterparts. Physicians have a doctorate, so nurses that are practicing at advanced levels should have a doctorate as well. Pharmacists have a doctorate; physical therapists have a doctorate. That’s really where health care is going: everybody has the highest level of education with regards to patient care.

Higher levels of education for nurses

Valerio isn’t the only one who believes that ongoing education is essential to the future of medicine. Recently, the Institute of Medicine recommended that 80% of entry-level nurses be prepared with a BSN and that the number of nurses with a doctorate be doubled by 2020. The report states that the need for continued education is a result of the ways in which the United States health care system was formed and has changed. In the 20th century, nursing education was focused on treating acute conditions. With the rise of chronic conditions, which can be more complicated to treat than acute injuries, it is important that the BSN be the entry-level degree for nurses. Additionally, more nurses with doctorates are needed to lead improvement in health outcomes through advanced practice, research, and teaching.

Mennonite College of Nursing recognizes that there is a need for more highly educated nurses. Our online RN to BSN program allows nurses who have already completed an associate’s degree to attain a B.S.N. MCN also works with students in the program to ensure that the transition from RN to B.S.N. is seamless.

Our graduate programs aim to increase the number of advanced nursing degree prepared practitioners in the field. All MCN graduate programs contribute to this cause. The FNP focuses on holistic, preventative care with an emphasis on the underserved. The Nursing Systems Administration (NSA) prepares professionals who are ready and able to step into healthcare organizations and lead to create positive change. The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) prepares practitioners of the highest caliber with a focus on nursing practice. And finally, MCN’s Ph.D. prepares experts in health policy, with some graduates going on to help create and shape it.

Looking to the Future: The Virtualization of Healthcare

According to an article published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, the development of the world wide web has had an especially large impact on the ways in which patients navigate healthcare. While the internet has made healthcare information easily accessible, the quality of this information and the way in which it is used often has detrimental effects on users’ health.

On the other hand, the internet has also led to the creation of virtual communities. In these communities, patients can anonymously chat with others about their conditions. In instances where these conditions are stigmatized, such as mental health, HIV, or substance abuse, this communication may lead to reduced perceived stigmatization and can result in the patient seeking health care from a professional.

Increasingly, the internet is also being used to deliver healthcare information, like electronic records and diagnoses, to patients and other medical professionals. If this trend continues, health information could be communicated more effectively. In addition, it could diminish some of the inequalities in health by allowing those in rural areas easier access to health care. As the article points out, however, medical professionals that utilize the internet for these purposes should be careful of the ways in which it could worsen the pre-existing inequalities, as those in rural areas are often lacking access to the internet as well.

With the relatively recent development of health care in digital spaces, only one thing is truly certain: as the internet continues to evolve, so will the ways in which it will be utilized for health care purposes.


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Sandra Nielson, instructional assistant professor

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Teresa Valerio, instructional assistant professor

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