The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated 2020 The International Year of the Nurse and Midwife (coinciding with and honoring the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth.) “International Year of the Nurse and Midwife”
The WHO stresses that “strengthening nursing and midwifery – and ensuring that nurses and midwives are enabled to work to their full potential – is one of the most important things we can do to achieve universal health coverage and improve health globally.” If you work in health care in a clinical, community, education, or research setting, you almost certainly work with nurses. In the U.S. alone, there are over 3 million registered nurses (via Bureau of Labor Statistics).
Do you know what roles nurses serve in in your community, and what their scopes of practice are? In many areas, nurses are not permitted to practice to the full scope of their education and training (which may include bachelors, masters, and/or doctoral degrees) due to both legal and institutional restrictions. This means we’re leaving much needed, highly skilled work on the table. Why, and how can we fix this?
The December 2019 issue of the Lancet includes an editorial about the value and potential of nursing. The authors note that “…for all its importance, nursing remains underappreciated. Perhaps the biggest barrier that continues to stifle the profession concerns gender and stereotypes. Most nurses are women, and nursing is still viewed by many as women’s work and as a soft science, rather than as the highly skilled profession it really is.” Though most readers likely feel they do not value women less than men, the institutions we work within demonstrably do. What are the gender and educational preparation of the president of the university, the CEO of the health system, the PI of the big grant? How many full professors in your department are women? What salaries do nurses make, what salaries do women make, and how do they stack up against others in an organization? If your organization is typical, you might be surprised at the disparities. AHA pledged to have no all-male panels (#nomanels!) at Scientific Sessions this past November— is that true of other events you’ve attended?
Understandably, some nurses have met the WHO’s announcement with skepticism. We’ve heard calls for recognizing and honoring nurses before, without much substantive change following. Can this time be different? I believe we can work to address the undervaluing of nursing as a profession and women as professionals, which is hindering improvement in global health. Institutions can support nursing— and I don’t mean with a pizza party during nurses’ week (although I do love pizza, so please don’t stop doing this). I mean with safe staffing, respect, leadership roles and adequate compensation. With decision-making power. With professional autonomy. This is easier said than done.
Providing this support means developing a better understanding of the breadth and depth of nursing expertise. As early career professionals, we are poised to set priorities for the coming decades of healthcare, research, and education. When it comes supporting nurses and nursing, ask yourself if you are truly walking the walk, and look for ways to do more.
Here are some ways to increase your awareness of the actual and potential impact of nursing:
- Read the Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing or other nursing research journals. Learn what kinds of research nurses are doing and how it might impact your work.
- Invite nurses to present at grand rounds. Their clinical expertise is often vast.
- Invite nurses to be part of your research team— not only as staff to do your data collection, but as co-investigators. Doctorally-prepared nurses work as researchers, teachers, and advanced practice clinicians, and they are likely to have invaluable insights into aspects of science and health that others may not have.
- Look at your citations when you write: are you including diversity, including professional role, gender, race, and nationality?
- For nurses and those interested in nursing, have you affiliated with the Council on Cardiovascular and Stroke Nursing? Get involved, fill out a science volunteer form (committee assignments are made in April), and get in touch with the leadership.
- Consider joining other professional organizations and getting involved with political causes— scope of practice and reimbursement issues are often hashed out by legislators, and voices supporting nursing are sorely needed. This includes from physicians!
What will you do to support nursing this year?
The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.
Elizabeth Knight, PhD, DNP (she/her/hers) is a family nurse practitioner, scientist, and educator at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. She focuses on social justice in health care, including the role of gender in cardiovascular health. She tweets @TheKnightNurse.