Some nurses are pushing to overhaul their field's "pink collar" image.

"Nurses -- for years past -- are great nurses at the bedside, but very task-oriented, to get the job done. To come to work," says Victoria Rich, chief nurse executive at Penn Medicine. She's been a nurse for 33 years.

Ideally, nurses today don't clock into a job," says Rich, who has been a nurse for 33 years. "They practice a profession."

And research supports the nurse's role in better patient care.

Some health outcomes, she said, are especially "nurse-sensitive." When nursing care improves, rates of blood-stream infection, bed sores and patient falls also improve, Rich says.

The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania now only hires registered nurses with a four-year degree.

"The skills I want now when I hire you are not so much that you know how to do the basic skill," Rich said. "The skill that I want you to have now is the skill of inquiry, the skill of discovery, asking why."

Matthew McHugh, now professor and health researcher, started his career as a nurse 17 years ago.

"Since Florence Nightingale, nurses have taken their work seriously, taken a scholarly approach to our professional practice," McHugh said. "We try to think about our work as evidence based, it may be that now, everyone else is catching up."

The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Fox Chase and Lankenau are among the hospitals in the Philadelphia region that have earned "Magnet" status, an excellence in nursing recognition.

Experts say the push to prove the relationship between nursing and patient care may help nurses capture more of the country's health-care dollars.