Written by

Michael Thompson


College of Healthcare Sciences

Publish Date

11 May 2024

Related Study Areas

The economic power of care

Nursing is celebrated for its role in the care and wellbeing of patients, but the profession’s value to society extends well beyond a clean bill of health. In recognition of the widespread contribution of nursing to our society, the theme for International Nurses Day 2024 is “Our Nurses, Our Future. The economic power of care”. Associate Professor Taha Chaiechi, Head of Economics and Marketing at JCU, underlines that the substantial economic and societal benefits of nursing extend far beyond hospital walls.

A vital part of medical care teams within hospitals, community health centres, aged care facilities and even schools, the importance of nurses to the healthcare profession cannot be overstated. Associate Professor Chaiechi says that the economic impact of quality nursing care is also significant, and communities can reap major dividends both directly and indirectly.

“Directly, they reduce costs by providing care that prevents complications and shortens hospital stays, which are main components of healthcare costs. Indirectly, their role in preventative care, community health education, and early intervention strategies reduce long-term healthcare expenditures by preventing more severe health crises that require expensive interventions,” she says.

“From an economic standpoint, preventative care and early interventions can be viewed as investments that yield high returns by reducing the incidence of severe illnesses that require expensive, extensive care or emergency interventions.

“For example, by managing chronic conditions like diabetes or hypertension early through regular monitoring and education, nurses help prevent the costly complications associated with these diseases, such as heart attacks or strokes.”

Big savings from quality care

While not all nursing services can be assigned a direct figure to represent their monetary value, A/Prof Chaiechi said there were estimates that illustrated the economic value to society.

She highlighted the cost savings that can come from reducing the number of inpatient days at hospitals through higher staffing levels of nurses.

A study performed in the United States estimated that each inpatient day avoided can save about US$1,522 (AU$2,313). A/Prof Chaiechi said other studies showed the benefits of increasing the number of full-time registered nurses in acute care hospitals.

“By raising the staff levels to meet higher standards — specifically 9.1 hours per patient per day — it's estimated that nearly 6,000 lives could be saved each year. The economic value of these saved lives adds up to more than $1.3 billion annually in US dollars, breaking down to about $9,900 per additional nurse per year,” she says.

“Moreover, the future productivity value of each life saved is about $222,400 in US dollars. This figure represents what these individuals might have contributed economically if their lives hadn't been cut short by medical complications.”

The raising of staff levels to meet higher standards of nursing would also lead to better comfort and support for patients and their families.

JCU Head of Economics and Marketing Associate Professor Taha Chaiechi.
JCU Bachelor of Nursing Science course coordinator Dr Peter Hartin.
Left: Associate Professor Taha Chaiechi, JCU Head of Economics and Marketing. Right: JCU Bachelor of Nursing Science course coordinator Dr Peter Hartin.

Prevention is better than cure

The economic value of nursing can also be highlighted through the rollout of public health initiatives such as vaccination drives, routine health screening and public education campaigns.

A/Prof Chaiechi says nurses play a central role in those initiatives, which can have a profound economic impact.

“These efforts are critical because they help avoid the onset of diseases that, if unchecked, would require expensive medical treatments. Economically, it's much more cost-effective to prevent a disease than to treat one,” she says.

“Consider the role of nurses in managing the spread of flu. By administering flu vaccines and educating the public on prevention methods, nurses help reduce the incidence of severe flu cases that would otherwise lead to hospitalisations and substantial healthcare spending.

“In essence, the economic benefits provided by nurses in public health initiatives are realized through reduced healthcare costs, less strain on healthcare facilities, and overall healthier communities.”

JCU nursing students learning vital skills in a hospital environment.

The importance of nursing resources

Nursing’s contribution to society is celebrated annually on International Nurses Day, which falls on the anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing.

JCU Bachelor of Nursing Science course coordinator and Senior Lecturer Dr Peter Hartin said the economic theme of this year’s International Nurses Day was aimed at highlighting the need for nurses to receive more resources and support.

“The theme emphasises the importance of recognising and investing in nursing as a strategic resource for building healthier societies and stronger economies,” he says.

“This theme serves as a call to action to reshape perceptions, advocate for adequate resources and support for nursing, and demonstrate the immense value that nurses bring to healthcare systems and society as a whole.”

Resourcing promises greater efficiency

From wage disparities compared to similar healthcare roles, to understaffing issues, A/Prof Chaiechi said nurses were currently experiencing hardships that hampered their ability to work at peak efficiency.

“In many healthcare settings, despite the demanding nature of their work and the critical role they play in patient care, nurses may earn significantly less than other healthcare professionals with equivalent qualifications,” she says.

“Understaffing is another critical issue. Many healthcare facilities do not have enough nurses, leading to increased workloads and stress among the nursing staff. This situation contributes to high turnover rates, as nurses leave the profession in search of better conditions or less demanding roles.”

A/Prof Chaiechi said quality training was key in ensuring nurses are more efficient and capable of providing a high standard of care, which in turn lead to positive economic outcomes.

“For example, an investment in advancing nursing skills through additional certifications or advanced degrees can enable nurses to perform more complex procedures and manage critical care situations more effectively,” she says.

“This boosts the overall productivity of healthcare services, leading to better patient outcomes and lower healthcare costs.”

Academics say investing in education is crucial to the future of nursing.

Education the economic key

A/Prof Chaiechi says with its potential for positive improvements through policy and investment, nursing can play a crucial role in moving Australia’s healthcare system forward.

“Enhancing working conditions by implementing better nurse-to-patient ratios and supporting mental health can significantly reduce burnout and turnover. This leads to improved care and job satisfaction,” she says.

“Investing in education helps nurses keep up with evolving healthcare demands, increasing efficiency and effectiveness in patient care. These changes would benefit not only nurses but also improve health outcomes and economic efficiency across Australia’s healthcare system.”

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