The Current State of Health Economics Education in Nursing Programs in the United States.

Platt, Maia, and Andrea Kwasky

Background: The ultimate goal of health economics (HE) education is to expose medical professionals to the problem of high and rising healthcare costs, scarcity of resources, and consequently the necessity of cost containment. While an economic way of thinking may be standard for economists, policy makers, and many others, it may not come naturally to medical professionals, including nurses, who are often taught to save a life or to achieve a certain health outcome regardless of the costs.

Purpose: This study describes the importance of HE for the nursing profession, evaluates the current state of HE education in nursing schools in the United States, and argues that HE education should be a required component in a typical baccalaureate nursing curriculum.

Methods: A systematic survey of nursing programs documenting the state of HE education in US baccalaureate nursing programs was conducted. The lists of baccalaureate nursing programs accredited by both the Commission of Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC) were accessed from their respective websites. The entire sample (N=757) was surveyed for the presence of HE education in the nursing curriculum: either in the form of a separate course (i.e. Health Economics) or in combination with other content areas (e.g. Health Economics and Finance). Each nursing school’s website was accessed; academic curriculum pages were located and searched for the presence of the word “Economic” or “Economics”. The results were then tabulated.

Results: Survey results demonstrate that only 19 (3.5%) out of 548 CCNE accredited and 5 (2.4%) out of 209 NLNAC accredited nursing schools in the United States feature a HE course in their curriculum. These statistics suggest inadequate inclusion of HE content in the nursing schools’ baccalaureate curricula across the United States.

Conclusions: The strikingly scarce representation of HE education in nursing schools curricula should be a reason for concern for the agencies responsible for establishing standards for higher nursing education. Major policy changes need to be adopted at the national level: revision of the payment incentives for nursing input, and a change in the nationwide educational standards in academic programs for healthcare professionals, nurses in particular.

Implications: Healthcare cost containment is an important goal for the United States. Steps must be taken towards the promotion of a more visible and consistent presence of HE education in undergraduate nursing curricula. However, a HE component currently is not a part of the national standard for higher nursing education. Thus it would make sense if HE education becomes a standard part of the academic curricula in all health-related academic programs, and nursing programs in particular. For nursing education, advocating obligatory inclusion of HE content in the Standards for Accreditation for Baccalaureate and Graduate Degree Nursing Programs (Commission of Collegiate Nursing Education, 2009) could be the first step towards change.