Nurses’ selfless commitment on the front lines of COVID-19 continues to evoke the deepest admiration from the world. The crisis has shown that the nursing profession is ready to take a giant step forward. But is the world ready to step forward as well? To manage pandemics, maintain health services, improve workforce readiness, and ensure health equity, countries must commit to more than gratitude and embrace new strategies to protect, safeguard, and invest in nurses and health care workers.
Where do we go from here? Organizations at home and abroad are laying out a blueprint to lead the way.
At the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 74th World Health Assembly in May, delegates passed multiple resolutions to bolster the nursing profession and ensure the global health care workforce is properly skilled, equipped, and supported. The assembly called on countries to re-commit to sustained investments in nursing education, training, and jobs, and urged diverse sectors to work together to produce a global health and care worker compact.
Delegates also passed a resolution to fortify the impact of nurses and midwives on global population health goals, including universal health coverage. Drawing on evidence published in the WHO’s State of the World’s Nursing Report (2020) and the State of the World’s Midwifery Report (2021), the Global Strategic Directions for Nursing and Midwifery 2021–2025 recommends specific policies to increase nurses’ influence over the next five years.
At the grass roots level, the Nursing Now campaign has raised the status and profile of nursing globally, while empowering nurses to step up and address the world’s biggest health challenges. The three-year campaign (2018-2020), administered in collaboration with the WHO and International Council of Nurses, also put the spotlight on government investment in nursing, and supported legislation that enabled nurses to work to their full potential. See the full impact in Nursing Now’s final report, here.
Nursing Now has created a unique platform, uniting nurses, the public and private sector, government leaders, and others to advocate for change. These partners successfully designated 2020 as the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife and published the first ever State of the World’s Nursing Report. Nurses Together, which launched earlier this year, will continue to work to strengthen nursing practice, policy, and planning moving forward.
Here in the United States, the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) recently issued a new consensus study setting out nursing priorities for the decade ahead. The Future of Nursing 2020-2030: Charting a Path to Achieve Health Equity examines the important role nurses play in reducing health disparities and helping people live the healthiest life possible.
Building on its landmark 2011 report, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change Advancing Health, NAM’s latest publication explores how nurses in different roles and settings can combat growing inequities, especially among marginalized populations. Nurses are trusted caregivers and thus well positioned to optimize outcomes for diverse patients and communities across our country.
The report argues that we cannot achieve true health equity without nurses and calls on the nation’s 4 million RNs to use their powerful numbers and powerful voices to usher in a new era in which everyone can achieve their full health potential.
So, where do we go from here? And how do we get there?
We know what needs to be done. Strategies have been written, resolutions ratified and implemented, and evaluation methods articulated. Now, we must hold the powers that be accountable. We must summon the political will to turn strategies and resolutions into meaningful action.
It is up to us as nurses to do our part. We must collaborate with stakeholders, nursing organizations, governments, and the public and private sector at the local, national, and international level to achieve sustainable results. Above all, we must take our seat at the table to drive change and improve outcomes.
This is especially important as we continue to work in a COVID environment rife with safety issues and other challenges. As I wrote recently in The Lancet, if we are to weather this crisis and prepare to meet the next pandemic, we must focus on strengthening public health infrastructure, building up health care workforce capacity, and most importantly, recruiting, educating, and retaining more nurses.
How can we get leaders’ attention? In a recent article in the International Nursing Review, I discuss the critical imperative for nurses to become proficient at turning evidence into action. Nurses must learn how to take evidence gathered and condense it into succinct documents that will attract attention, inform policy, and drive real results and sustainable outcomes.
As you think about the state of the world’s nursing and midwifery services, think about individual and collective ways you plan to make a difference.