When the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that 2020 would be designated The Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, enthusiasm rippled throughout the global nursing community. Coinciding with the 200th birth anniversary of Florence Nightingale, this year holds deep meaning for nurses and nursing leaders who appreciate having our work take center stage under the auspices of such an influential organization.
While nurses continue to be chosen as the most trusted American professionals in the annual Gallup poll, many still lack understanding of what nurses are capable of. Do all nurses work in hospitals? Can nurses be entrepreneurs and business owners? What are Nurse Practitioners and Doctors of Nursing Practice, anyway? These and other questions can and should be addressed when nursing comes into broader public scrutiny during this momentous celebration.
What does it mean that 2020 is The Year of the Nurse? Will anything really change? Will we seize the moment to make the importance of our work more universally understood? How can we grab hold of this year and make it our own? And will the year offer more than lip service to hard-working nurses around the world? Forget the coffee mugs and tote bags branded with hearts and stethoscopes; nurses want significant recognition of both their expertise and their struggles.
With the announcement of The Year of the Nurse, the World Health Organization handed nurses a golden opportunity on the proverbial silver platter, if you will. And while WHO officials may call attention to nurses and highlight certain aspects of the profession, nurses must take the collective and individual reins by raising their voices above the fray.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or healthcare economist) to perceive that nursing is under duress in the early 21st century. From rampant incivility and bullying to crippling nurse-patient ratios and burnout, nurses are clearly behind the eight-ball. As numerous nurses are churned out by nursing schools, we know that a significant percentage will leave the profession within a few years, often due to burnout, bullying, and disillusionment. This is a calculus that clearly must change.
Since nurses’ actions cannot generally be counted as billable, much of what we accomplish is not captured in terms of monetary value. We know we’re valuable, and patients and many physicians will concur, but we are still not playing on equal economic footing. It would take massive infrastructural changes to alter this equation, and it would be well worth the effort.
Nurses know that change is needed on many levels, yet many feel powerless to effect change, and this is where The Year of the Nurse just might make its most powerful mark if carpe diem becomes our rallying cry.
Nurses Taking the Reins
In their seminal book From Silence to Voice: What Nurses Know and Must Communicate to the Public, journalists Suzanne Gordon and Bernice Buresh make the case for nurses learning how to educate the public and media about who they are, what they believe, and what they do.
When something important happens in the healthcare world, who does the media call for opinions? Physicians. Why? Because they are seen as authorities and most journalists wouldn’t know who to call in the confusing nursing ecosystem.
This is where nurses can make themselves known to reporters by reaching out to local, regional, or national media centers, or perhaps signing up for Help a Reporter Out (HARO), a service connecting journalists with topic experts. For the nurse keen to be heard, this is one place to begin.
From letters to the editor and op-eds to blog posts and being in the contact list of influential healthcare reporters, nurses can seize the opportunity to be heard. Nurse bloggers, journalists, and podcasters create news by publishing their thoughts for all to read or hear. Nurses can also become public speakers, presenting salient topics locally, nationally, or even internationally.
Nurses must take the reins in their workplaces by assertively requesting meetings with executives and other stakeholders. Although nursing began as a non-professional vocation with limited status under the shadow of all-powerful physicians, nurses are now professionals in their own right with opinions, innovative ideas, and a powerful position as the largest percentage of the healthcare workforce. Our numbers are mighty, yet our collective voice needs exponential amplification.
Finally, nurses can meet with local and national legislators and lobby for legislation they support. Political action is powerful, and nurses can speak with elected leaders or run for office themselves. At the time of this writing only two members of the U.S. Congress are nurses; are you next? If that thought induces vertigo, first try running for school board, city council, or perhaps mayor. Nurse, your fellow citizens need you.
A Steroidal Infusion
In order for 2020 to be truly momentous, nurses must not only receive pats on the back and accolades. With access to the giant megaphone of The Year of the Nurse, our profession can risk making grand statements, stepping into the light, and raising our voices above our usual apologetic whisper.
If you are a nurse who truly wishes to make a difference, imbue 2020 with the steroidal infusion it needs and raise your voice along with other nurses willing to take the chance of being seen and heard.
Nurses, come out of the shadows, pick up that megaphone, call that reporter, write that op-ed, submit that letter to the editor, meet with your executives or legislators, or run for office yourself. Nursing’s time has come; are we ready to seize the day?
Keith Carlson, BSN, RN, NC-BC is a holistic career coach for nurses, award-winning nurse blogger, writer, podcaster, speaker, and author.
With two decades of nursing experience, Keith understands the issues faced by 21st-century nurses. Keith’s podcast, The Nurse Keith Show, offers inspiration and practical support to nurses seeking to create meaningful lives and careers.
Keith’s message of savvy career management reaches nurses worldwide and he can be found on social media, as well as at NurseKeith.com.