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On the importance of nurses in 2020
May 12, 2020, By: Claire Betker

This year, we have a unique opportunity to raise the profile and impact of nurses and nursing globally. To commemorate the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth, the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared 2020 the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife. No one could have imagined, when the declaration was made, the significance of 2020—and the call that nurses around the world would so ably answer.

In making this declaration, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated, “2020 will be dedicated to highlighting the enormous sacrifices and contributions of nurses and midwives, and to ensuring that we address the shortage of these vital professions” (ICN, 2019a). In response, International Council of Nurses president Annette Kennedy welcomed the recognition and acknowledged, “All around the world, nurses are working tirelessly to provide the care and attention people need, whenever and wherever they need it” (ICN, 2019b). Significant statements, given what is now going on globally with the COVID-19 pandemic.

We heard, resoundingly, that a national professional nursing association is needed now more than ever …

In a few short weeks, the impact of the coronavirus on our country, our work, our economy, and our lives has been far-reaching and staggering. What an extraordinary and unprecedented time we find ourselves in.

Critical role

As regulated nurses, you are playing a critical role in preventing and mitigating the spread of this disease, identifying and following cases and contacts, screening and testing people, as well as planning, leading, and managing the response to COVID-19 in every community across Canada. Despite the many challenges our health system is facing, you continue to show up, willing and ready to take care of the public. On behalf of the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA), our officers and board of directors, I want to thank you for your dedication and for the knowledge, the science, the skill, the leadership, and the caring you bring to this unprecedented situation every day in the many and varied settings in which you work.

The CNA is the national and global professional voice of Canadian nursing. Regulated nurses in Canada number over 430 000 and include licensed practical nurses (registered practical nurses in Ontario), registered psychiatric nurses, registered nurses, and nurse practitioners.

I am very proud to have had the opportunity to serve as CNA president. My term ends at the end of June, when Tim Guest from Nova Scotia will take the reins. The association is in a period of transformation, and I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to be involved in this evolution.

Engagement and dialogue

In order to better meet the needs of current and future members, between October 2019 and March 2020, the CNA hosted more than 50 engagement and dialogue sessions across Canada, in which we asked what must be done to build a vibrant and relevant national professional nursing association for all regulated nurses in Canada. We heard, resoundingly, that a national professional nursing association is needed now more than ever to unify the profession, to support excellence in practice, to speak to the value and contribution of nursing, and to advocate for an effective, sustainable health system.

Together we will build a diverse, effective, and unifying organization that will take CNA and nursing in Canada forward. I am so thankful to the more than 1000 nurses who attended those meetings and shared their thoughts, feelings, and excellent ideas.

Looking back to our roots

May 12, 2020, International Nurses Day, is the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth. While I realize that she was not the only nursing or health pioneer of significance, her contribution to nursing, public health, epidemiology, and health system administration is enormous, and I find myself continuing to draw inspiration from her work and her words.

… her writing is still so relevant to the world today: “Health is not only to be well, but to be able to use well every power we have.”

Nightingale inspired early professionalism across the domains of nursing—practice, education, administration, research, and policy development. She expected, and fostered through education and policy, excellence in nursing practice, patient safety, and the promotion and protection of the public’s health. She contributed her intellect and knowledge to evaluate care, to present and translate evidence effectively, and to advocate for health system reform as well as societal change. She used her relationships with politicians, the media, other professionals, and the public to make significant social and structural changes through advocacy and relentless use of all levers available to her.

A passion to serve

Underpinning all of this activity was a commitment and passion to serve, to care—to improve the conditions, and thus the health—of people, families, communities, and populations—especially those disadvantaged by illness, disability, and the social, physical, and economic conditions in which they were living.

Nightingale believed in the responsibility, role, and value of professional nursing to tackle the complex issues of her time. She wrote prolifically during her career, but perhaps this quotation, penned in 1893, exemplifies why her writing is still so relevant to the world today: “Health is not only to be well, but to be able to use well every power we have” (The Nightingale Society, 2020).

Nightingale’s vision for nursing and for health continues to resonate and is relevant today. She believed it would take 150 years before educated nurses would have the necessary impact on the health of the population and the health system. That time is now, and we must use “every power we have” to answer the call.

Nursing voices

For Nurses Week this year, the theme is “Nurses: A Voice to Lead—Nursing the World to Health.” The intent is to highlight and celebrate the enormous contribution that nurses make to the health of the world. I encourage you to join the local, national, and global recognition and celebration of our profession.

I know there are many, many stories of the extraordinary work of nurses in these extraordinary times. So join with CNA and ICN and raise your voice to tell your colleagues, the public, and politicians just how important nursing is for the health of individuals, families, and communities in Canada and around the world. I look forward to hearing you!


International Council of Nurses (ICN). (2019a, May 24). International Council of Nurses and Nursing Now welcome 2020 as International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife.

International Council of Nurses (ICN). (2019b, October 24). Nursing the World to Health - ICN announces theme for International Nurses Day 2020.

The Nightingale Society. (2020). Nightingale’s Way with Words.

Claire’s nursing career began in southwestern Manitoba at a rural single-nurse public health office. She has worked in public health, home care, and primary health care in a variety of positions at local, regional, provincial, and national levels. Claire is currently the Scientific Director for the National Collaborating Centre for Determinants of Health (NCCDH), hosted by St. Francis Xavier University. She believes that strong professional nursing associations play an essential role not only in advocacy for policy and system change, but also for the advancement of the profession, as well as the health of all people living in Canada.