Mar 15, 2021
By Barb Shellian

“Nurses are everywhere” in the health system, and they know how to make it better

istockphoto.com/gpointstudio/FatCameraShining the light on the importance of nursing knowledge and skills should not just be reserved for pandemics or disasters. We should seize this opportunity to influence decision-makers.

It is hard not to reflect after a year of COVID-19 news, pandemic response, lockdowns, outbreaks, personal protective equipment (PPE), and Zoom meetings. We have had a year of almost singular discussion — our lives have been framed in our persistent reality of a pandemic.

The role and impact of nursing through all of this has been a bright light and an inspiration. It has held me up and kept me going for the past 12 months.

I am not the only one who has noticed nurses during the pandemic. I was speaking with a patient recently, someone who had a variety of family health-care related experiences in the past year — a visit to the emergency department with a child, a new baby, minor surgery, a young family member dying from cancer, making appointments for COVID-19 swabbing, managing virtual visits to a grandmother in long-term care, and receiving a flu immunization. This person summed up all these experiences by saying, “Nurses are everywhere. They’re in the hospital, in the community, in the home, in the school — whenever people need something during life or death or in between, they’re there.”

The patient’s comment made me pause. I know as fact that nurses are everywhere — and I have developed advocacy at many levels of government based on that fact. It was still powerful to hear it from a patient, a member of my community. That comment made me think about this unbelievable year in a different way.

We are everywhere for people when they require our knowledge, skills, and caring. We are very good at that. However, are we where we need to be when decisions are being made about health systems? Are we helping to develop policies and laws? Are we helping to formulate strategic directions for health care? Are we waiting for an invitation to participate that may never come?

The recent comments from this patient reinforced to me that we have strong and enduring support and trust from the public — they know we are everywhere. The response from the nursing profession in the COVID-19 pandemic has been outstanding in Canada and across the world. Nurses have been pivotal in providing safe care even in very difficult circumstances — long hours, lack of resources, personal hardship, and in some cases, even death.

Shining the light on the importance of nursing knowledge and skills should not just be reserved for pandemics or disasters. We should seize this opportunity to influence decision-makers. We have influence now, and we should maintain this momentum to speak up and speak out — even if you’re so exhausted you feel like you just can’t don or doff your PPE one more time.

We have solutions for the crisis in long-term care. We know how to manage a massive vaccination strategy. We are everywhere. Do not wait to be asked. Advocacy is persuasion with facts — and we have the facts!

Howard Catton (@HowardCatton) is the CEO of the International Council of Nurses and a prolific contributor to Twitter. In one of his most recent tweets, he asked nurses in Africa what they would do if they could talk directly with their country’s leaders. Food for thought.

Imagine you had a moment with your premier, health minister, and the prime minister. What would you say? I would start with, “Nurses are everywhere.”

Editor-in-chief Barb Shellian is a registered nurse committed to nursing practice, health-care reform, and people. She is a past president of the Canadian Nurses Association and also Director of Rural Health, Alberta Health Services Calgary Zone, and is located in Canmore, Alberta.

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