Registered nurses (RNs) are the frontline of patient care and the backbone of our health care system. They deliver person-centered care and assist family caregivers in the transition from clinical settings to home. They offer the best hope for more equitable health care by bringing more diversity to the workforce.

I was reminded of these qualities and why nursing is the most trusted profession — for the 20th straight year — at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis’ December pinning ceremony for our Master’s Entry Program in Nursing Class of 2022. While RNs are the largest segment of the health care workforce, they by no means can care for patients and families alone.

Health care is a team sport that requires different perspectives from clinicians trained in different disciplines to collaborate on a common goal. In fact, several studies suggest that a team-based approach both improves patient outcomes and improves clinician well-being.

For us at the School of Nursing, optimal health and health equity for all is the goal woven into each education and clinical experience for our students — future RNs, physician assistants (PAs), family nurse practitioners and nurse scientists. We are, by design, a team-based school that brings interprofessional education and exposure to every facet of our curriculum.

Upon completion, our alumni bring with them the values, beliefs and skills of the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing. The school was founded to create agents of change in an ever-evolving health care system. The past three-plus years illustrate that constant change and paint a challenging future:

  • A predicted increase of up to 12% in inpatient hospitalizations in 2025 — due to those with long-COVID and those who delayed treatment during COVID.
  • An aging population with more chronic conditions that will greatly expand visits to ambulatory and outpatient settings.
  • Inequitable care for underserved populations and communities of color due to systemic racism and years of biased research and practice.

The demand for critical-thinking, problem-solving providers is evident now more than ever. To prepare them to be the change agents and leaders we know they can be, we expose them to those realities while still in school.

Recently, future nurses in the School of Nursing partnered with future physicians in the UC Davis School of Medicine in an interprofessional poverty simulation. Students role-play the lives of families who are low-income to understand the realities of poverty. The simulation is designed to sensitize those who frequently deal with families that are disadvantaged. Later this year, future nurses and PAs will have the opportunity to work on a School of Nursing led mobile health clinic that serves people experiencing homelessness, refugees and unaccompanied minors.

These experiences expose students to underrepresented populations — the very ones they will care for in the future — with the goal of seeing beyond the patient to understand the person and all the challenges they face in accessing and maintaining their health. We believe going beyond traditional education is how we achieve health and health care equity.

The RN workforce is expected to grow by 6% over the next decade. More than 40,000 new PAs will join the health care ranks in the next 10 years. The Advanced Practice Registered Nurse workforce — including nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists and nurse midwives — is expected to grow much faster by 40%. Their contribution and leadership in health care have never been more needed.

Today, more than 70 of our master’s-prepared nurses now work in our health system. In addition, more than a dozen of our PAs and advanced practice nurse practitioners work throughout the UC Davis Health network to expand patient access and equip future students with the skills they need to go beyond traditional practice.

At the School of Nursing, we’re proud to contribute to the future of health care and to serve as an indispensable partner at UC Davis Health. I know our graduates will make a difference for years to come.