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Influencing governments to invest in nursing: a critical role of nursing associations

ICN president Pamela Cipriano looks toward the year ahead and the ICN Congress in Montreal

By Pamela F. Cipriano
January 16, 2023
Courtesy of ICN
“The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us some very painful lessons about underinvestment in health care and the lack of adequate preparation for a pandemic,” Pamela Cipriano says.

It has been over a year now that I have had the honour of serving as the ICN president. It was an eventful year, as we emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic to look around and see what now needs to be done to ensure that the nursing profession and health systems across the globe are strong enough to face any future challenges.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us some very painful lessons about underinvestment in health care and the lack of adequate preparation for a pandemic. One of the most important lessons is that nurses play a critical role in health care, and that this role must be recognized, valued and rewarded.

Sadly, during the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses and other health-care workers risked (or even sacrificed) their very lives to care for patients. It did not need to be this way. The shortage of personal protective equipment, poor access to timely vaccination, and lack of support needed to practise in a safe and healthy environment all exacerbated the situation. In addition, nurses and physicians are 16 times more likely to experience violence in the workplace as compared to other service workers. The conditions of the work of nurses and other health professionals not only affects their own rights, but also the rights of patients requiring access to quality and affordable health care.

Nurses everywhere are still suffering the pandemic’s repercussions, including workforce shortages, low pay and unfavourable working conditions. This, combined with a global political and socioeconomical crisis, is making many nurses consider leaving the profession. In 2022, we witnessed strikes and other job actions by nurses in many countries as they fought for the recognition, the value, and the rewards they deserve.

Addressing workplace disputes through such action should be a last resort, and there are many other ways in which nurses can and must influence their governments to invest in nursing. National nursing associations, such as the Canadian Nurses Association, as well as individual nurses play an important role in influencing the policies and funding that support nursing. What can you do?

Gathering data and evidence is an important first step. I encourage all nurses to conduct or participate in research and disseminate findings that shows the benefits of investing in the nursing profession. Sharing your personal experiences and advocating for actions that support scaling up and maintaining a competent nursing workforce are essential ways to communicate the urgency of investing in nursing for effective health-care systems. You can help to develop nursing leaders by mentoring others or joining leadership programs such as ICN’s Leadership for Change or Global Nursing Leadership Institute. Use your skills, knowledge and attributes as a voice to lead. Make your own health a priority, which will put you in a better position to lead others.

You can also attend the ICN Congress in Montreal, July 1-5, 2023. The theme for the event is Nursing together: a force for global health. By joining us, you can help to raise our voice and make an even bigger impact on the global stage. Sharing our story — sharing our influence — through the ICN Congress is important as this will be a time when the world’s eyes are upon us. Registration for the event is already open, with early-bird registration ending January 31, so act soon!

We have been steadfast in our work to accomplish our strategic goals of having global impact, membership empowerment, and innovative growth. Those activities have continued despite the enormous challenges of the pandemic. We know that this means that we must continue to elevate the role, visibility and voice of nurses worldwide. We want nurses to be change agents at the community, organizational and governmental levels so that the voice of the nurse transforms health care.

ICN will continue to fight for nurses in 2023. For International Nurses Day 2023, we have chosen the theme Our Nurses. Our Future. We will launch this as a yearlong campaign to raise the profile of nurses and show that investment in nursing will bring about the necessary improvements to enhance health globally.

My vision for 2023 is to bring the nursing community together as a worldwide force to further influence policy-makers in order to enhance global health, working together to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and Universal Health Coverage by 2030 — just seven years away. To do this, we need urgent action to recruit and educate more nurses and to support our current nursing workforce. ICN will continue to develop nursing leaders to strengthen and improve future health systems. To fulfil this important role, nurses must be protected, respected and valued. As the global voice of nurses, ICN aims to lead this work to support and enable nurses to lead innovative and impactful health-care solutions to our greatest health challenges.

It is up to us to make sure that the world does not forget the sacrifices of nurses. This is a time to make sure that we build the empowerment that we know is necessary. A large amount of that empowerment comes with increasing leadership capacity in national nursing associations.

And so I encourage you to join ICN’s call to action, to step up and take part in the Our Nurses. Our Future. campaign and the ICN Congress so that your voice, our voice, is heard.

Pamela F. Cipriano, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, an internationally recognized nursing leader, is the 29th president of the International Council of Nurses (ICN), and a professor at the University of Virginia’s School of Nursing and Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy in Charlottesville, Virginia.