Q&A with Dr. Peter Buerhaus, New Society of Scholars Inductee

Sydnee Logan
By Sydnee Logan  | 
Q&A with Dr. Peter Buerhaus, New Society of Scholars Inductee

The 2019 inductees into the Johns Hopkins Society of Scholars included Peter Buerhaus, PhD, RN, FAAN, Dean Patricia Davidson’s nominee.

Dr. Buerhaus is a nurse and a health care economist who is well known for his studies on the nursing and physician workforces in the U.S. Dr. Buerhaus is currently affiliated with Montana State University; the Society of Scholars recognizes former Hopkins affiliates who have made outstanding contributions to their fields.

In a short Q&A, Dr. Buerhaus shares how he got into nursing, his thoughts on the strengths of the nursing workforce, some advice for men who are considering nursing, and reflections from his time at Johns Hopkins.

What made you decide to become a nurse?

My family. In the 70s, my father was a hospital administrator with a very successful record of recruiting physicians. Part of his process was to bring them to our house for a home cooked meal, and as we sat around the dinner table, they’d ask what I wanted to be when I grew up. “A doctor,” I’d say. “No, you want to be a nurse,” they’d respond, and pointed me in the direction of nurse anesthesia, in particular. I heard this 3 or 4 times.

Later, my older sister went to a diploma nursing school. We were very close, and after her first semester she told me, “Pete, I think becoming a nurse is a good idea for you. Think about it.” I decided to get my BSN, and my sister did the same. We ended up at the same university earning our BSNs at the same time.

What do you see are the strengths of the nursing workforce today?

There are so many! Here are 4 big ones:

#1 Nursing is becoming more educated and more diverse

In the last 10 to 15 years we’ve seen a huge increase in nurses’ education level. There are more BSN-prepared nurses, and the number of nurses being educated with graduate degrees has quadrupled since 2000—nearly 50,000 per year!

Then, the nursing workforce is becoming more diverse; there are more Hispanic and Asian nurses, and the number of African American nurses is now roughly equal to the proportion of African Nurses in the population. This is important because cultural competency impacts care.

#2 Hospitals recognize the value of a more educated nursing workforce

Compared to nurses with an associate’s degree, nurses with a BSN have been shown to produce better patient outcomes. Strong outcomes of care are important in value based payment systems, and hospitals now recognize that more educated nurses contribute most to the best health outcomes at the lowest cost.

#3 We now have strong research linking nurses to hospital quality and safety

Nurses are critically important to a hospital’s quality and safety. Sounds obvious right? But when costs rise and hospitals must cut back, trimming the nursing staff used to seem like a good idea. And in fact this has happened many times.

Yet now, with strong research to back up what we intuitively know—that nurses impact the hospital’s quality and safety—hospital nursing jobs are less vulnerable to being eliminated. In fact, measures of quality and safety are now tied directly to nursing and to reimbursement.

#4 Nursing is the most trusted profession

Despite all kinds of disruption—political, social, cultural, technologic—nursing continues to be the most trusted profession in the eyes of the public. It’s striking to me that nurses continue to enjoy so much public and private support, from congress, state legislatures, and private institutions. Nurses have had consistent, positive public perception for three decades now.

How did your time at Johns Hopkins impact your career?

Deciding to pursue a postdoc at Hopkins was a fork in the road moment for me; I chose the right direction to Hopkins at the right time, and it was a pivotal decision for my career.

As I wrapped up my postdoc, Harvard called me about a position. Places like Harvard pay attention to what happens at Hopkins. My career flourished at Harvard and that wouldn’t have happened if I had done my postdoc anywhere else.

What advice do you have for other men who are considering nursing?

I am very positive about the nursing profession. Nursing provides incredible career opportunities with great stability in employment and earnings. Nurses help people every day, which brings personal satisfaction and meaning that other professions just don’t offer so consistently. Also health care is a complicated world with lots of interprofessional teamwork, so the way nurses contribute to improving human health is constantly changing and intellectually stimulating.

The number of men going into nursing is growing rapidly; we’re up to 450,000 around the country, about 14 percent of the nursing population. So our growth trends are strong.

What does it mean to you to be part of the Society of Scholars?

Johns Hopkins is an incredible, world-renowned institution. To become a member of the Society of Scholars ranks at the top of any recognition I have received—it took my breath away. I instantly knew I would fly from Montana to Baltimore because I wasn’t going to miss this. I still feel humbled two weeks afterward.

The Society of Scholars was established in 1967 and consists of former graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, house staff, or junior or visiting faculty who have left Johns Hopkins but gone on to make great strides in their fields. There are 688 members; 16 inducted in 2019.

Image credit: Will Kirk / Homewood Photography 

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Sydnee Logan is the Social Media and Digital Content Coordinator for Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. She shares what’s going on here with the world.

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