Support Your Local Superhero

05/06/2015 12:00 am ET | Updated May 05, 2016

Our culture loves superheroes. We make movies, video games and action figures of them, and we cheer as they swoop in at the last minute to save the world against all odds.

This week, we celebrate another kind of superhero. What these superheroes lack in flash, boom and bang, they make up for in commitment, caring and competence. These are our nation's nurses: the true superheroes.

These nurses are at the forefront of the efforts to tackle society's greatest challenge -- health care. Nothing is more personal or important to every individual and family than good health. It is the basis of productivity in society, family and community engagement.

The challenge we face in providing quality health care at reasonable costs is growing larger and more complex every day. That makes the continuing shortage of registered nurses, both in the U.S. and globally, all the more critical.

Consider the enormity of this challenge:

  • Seniors utilize roughly seven times the health care resources of younger people. Today, we have 40 million people over the age of 65 in the U.S. By 2050, that number will double to more than 80 million.
  • In China, about 10 percent of the population is over 65. Over the next 35 years that percentage will rise to 25 percent. That means there will be more elderly Chinese than Americans of any age. In Japan, one in four citizens is over sixty-five.
  • By 2030, the middle class will more than double in size, from two billion today to 4.9 billion. Yet, with a rising middle class come rising expectations for access to quality and affordable health care. All this is coming at a time when government in every country and community is being pressured to reduce costs.

As I said, nurses are on the precipice of this great challenge. Today's nurses are both rigorously trained and wholly dedicated and disciplined. Most of us know someone in nursing; my wife and sister are registered nurses, and my niece, Alexandra, represents the latest generation of those who have made a career of caring for others. This is heartening to see, as there is no nobler purpose to work towards in life.

In addition, today's nurses must master the fast-changing technology of modern medicine. Just like the 80 percent of Americans who have smartphones, nurses are learning to master the most innovative tools to make diagnosis and treatment far more precise, and far better for patients and their families.

Technology and healthcare intersect to extend collaboration, speed up innovation and provide better outcomes for patients everywhere. The advancing technology of data analytics will also be an important tool for all of us, making health care truly customized to the individual and their genetic makeup.

At Johnson & Johnson, we now have partnerships with IBM, Google and Apple to improve on our technology. This is the level of change that our nurses must master and continue to upgrade their skills.

But no matter what, these modern technological miracles cannot eliminate the need for the human touch of nurses' personal relationship with every patient.

In 2002, Johnson & Johnson made a commitment to try to address the growing shortfall of nurses with our Campaign for Nursing's Future. At the time that shortfall was over 125,000, with vacancy rates as high as 30 percent in some areas.

That commitment has been a multi-year and multi-layered $50 million campaign, with an end goal of retaining current nurses, recruiting new ones and the faculty to train them, and enhancing the image of nursing as a profession in the United States. This effort included over $40 million in educational grants, development of the top support website for nurses and potential nurses, and, most recently, a continuing education program on Ebola that is available to every nurse in America for free.

The results of our Campaign for Nursing's Future, in partnership with nursing organizations across the U.S., have been impressive. Since the campaign began, 750,000 new nurses joined the profession. In fact, 250,000 new Registered Nurses have been employed at hospitals in just the past two years. But we are not done yet. My colleagues and I are excited to continue that to meet the need for more nurses, both this year and into the future.

It's comforting to know that true caring and compassion are alive and well, and that nurses throughout our country, and throughout the world, live these behaviors each day. Nurses heal us all, and we can't thank them enough for that.

National Nurses Week (May 6-12) allows our nation to officially recognize these incredible individuals and say thank you. Please join all of us at Johnson & Johnson in supporting local nursing organizations and honoring this vital profession.