I am the daughter and sister of nurses, two women for whom calm, caring behavior is a way of life rather than a profession. Both are more likely to ask "How can I help?" rather than "Can you give me a hand?" and both respond to disasters with courage instead of anxiety.

So it was with more than just professional interest that I read "The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health," a new report from the Institute of Medicine and funded by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Of the IOM's recommendations for the profession, I was most excited by the message that all nurses should be leaders, from the bedside to the boardroom.

The nursing profession also needs to do more to prepare nurses to be full partners in reshaping the health care system at both practice and policy levels. Nurses, for their part, "must understand that their leadership is as important to providing quality care as is their technical ability to deliver care at the bedside in a safe and effective manner," the report says.

The IOM reminds us that there are 3 million nurses at work in the United States, and they make up the largest segment of health care workers. They typically comprise the largest portion of a hospital's labor budget, too. More than physicians or hospitals, nurses are the faces of the care in health care for most patients. In translating a physician's orders, changing a dressing or consoling a family, nurses have a unique vantage point. They see a side of health care that those in the C-suite and board rooms cannot. Without nurses' input, efforts to improve the quality, safety and infrastructure of care will be incomplete.

Hospitals have a role to play in nurses' development by creating mentoring programs, offering leadership training and providing opportunities for participation on hospitalwide task forces on quality improvement and reform implementation. Because when nurses thrive, all of health care benefits.