May 10, 2021, By: Tim Guest
As I write this message, we continue to be immersed in the challenging reality of a second consecutive National Nursing Week during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has caused upheaval to every corner of health care and laid bare our lack of preparation for managing infectious diseases.
We have also been publicly forced to come to the overdue realization that we have a problem with systemic racism in our country, including within the health-care system and nursing profession. We embarrassingly witnessed the videos of grossly unprofessional racist members of our profession, perhaps most notably the deplorable treatment experienced by Indigenous people during incidents in Quebec and British Columbia hospitals.
Recently on social media, we have witnessed the pleas from demoralized critical care nurses posting videos educating the public about the devastating impact COVID-19 is having on patients and themselves. Nurses are begging for people to follow public health guidelines and get vaccinated so we can fight this virus collectively. However, nurses have also demonstrated incredible stamina and commitment to professional ethics and leadership by continuing to show up when the public needs us most. Nurses are selflessly putting themselves in harm’s way, risking infection of themselves and their families.
There is much to reflect on and celebrate. Nurses have been in the spotlight more over the last year than I can ever recall. I have heard many inspiring stories about the amazing, dedicated and selfless efforts of our nursing colleagues providing knowledgeable, ethical, professional, and compassionate nursing care to individuals and families devastated by a virus that was a complete mystery to us all a little more than a year ago.
Nurses in all practice settings, many in crisis, have played a significant role in Canada and across the world in the response to this deadly virus. We have shown the value we bring to the health system and it is being recognized.
What CNA did to respond to COVID-19
The theme for this year’s National Nursing Week is #WeAnswerTheCall. It was developed by the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) to showcase the many roles that nurses play in a patient’s health-care journey.
Answering a call should not be confused with “a calling” to nursing, a term that holds negative connotations for many nurses, particularly as it is linked with historical issues related to pay and working conditions. More than ever over the past year, nurses have globally shown that they answer calls to action. They were called to care and they did; called from retirement and they came; called to educate, vaccinate and advocate — and they did all that, and more.
The CNA team likewise has also answered the call, shifting nearly all its operations to focus on supporting nursing through this very challenging time. Since the days before the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, CNA has worked with all levels of government to ensure our members and all nurses have the evidence-based information and supports they need to carry out their jobs. CNA will continue to work with governments and our partners to respond to evolving health-care issues and to contribute solutions as we shape Canada’s economy and society going forward.
CNA must redesign its governance and membership structures so it can most effectively support all categories of nurses.
CNA by-law changes
Along with our work to battle COVID-19 and address systemic racism, CNA has been significantly impacted by changes in jurisdictional professional nursing structures. Regulatory changes are forcing provincial nursing organizations to focus solely on regulatory matters, leaving professional voice and advocacy activities behind. For more than 110 years, CNA has gone by a jurisdictional membership model, meaning all jurisdictions automatically became members of CNA. However, regulatory changes have resulted in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and British Columbia joining Ontario and Quebec in no longer being jurisdictional members of CNA. Alberta and Saskatchewan have announced they will be required to leave in the coming years.
CNA’s jurisdictional membership and governance structure, which served us so well for so many years, has become quicksand under our feet. To continue our advocacy and nursing leadership, CNA must redesign its governance and membership structures so it can most effectively support all categories of nurses across the country into a post-pandemic world.
Additionally, in 2018 CNA made the historic decision to open membership to all classes of regulated nurses.
For CNA to remain a relevant, effective, and sustainable organization, our board of directors are proposing amendments to CNA’s by-laws that will impact membership structures and the board’s composition. CNA’s governance and leadership committee took on extensive work to examine the existing governance and membership structures. The committee held a series of cross-country consultations with current and future CNA members to determine how to best meet your needs.
The membership model will transform from the current one — which includes four classes of members, all of which are organizations or groups — to include only one class of individual members. Switching to an individual membership model will empower the individual nursing voice within CNA. As an individual CNA member, you would have one vote, regardless of whether you are a licensed/registered practical nurse, registered psychiatric nurse, registered nurse, nurse practitioner, nursing student, or retired nurse.
To ensure the CNA board reflects the composition of the nursing workforce, we are also proposing it be restructured from a jurisdictional model to a skills-based model. This will ensure the board has people with the necessary skills and diversity to ensure CNA is successful for decades to come.
CNA has been providing nursing leadership for over 110 years and I am confident these changes will only strengthen the association. The proposed by-law amendments will be voted on at CNA’s annual meeting of members on June 17. Together, we can help CNA transform into a stronger organization that will help us unify the profession and carry us through the next 100 years of nursing leadership. I have never been more proud to be a nurse and to serve as your president.
Tim Guest, M.B.A., B.Sc.N., RN, is president of the Canadian Nurses Association.