Home | Opinion | Nurses need to focus on the complexity and specialised nature of role: ICN

Nurses need to focus on the complexity and specialised nature of role: ICN

The days and years ahead can be a time of great influence, when nurses’ knowledge and expertise become valued as never before.

Imagine a future where the voice and visibility of nursing is in proportion to the importance and size of nursing in the healthcare sector. Imagine a future where nurses are sought out by patients and nursing advice is valued by decision-makers.

It’s possible, and closer than many may think. It will take a concerted effort by nurses to continue breaking through the outdated images and beliefs about nurses being only compassionate bedside carers.

As a profession, it’s time for us to bring into focus for the public the complexity and specialised nature of our roles, and our commitment to ongoing professional training and education.

We need to seize the moment, and communicate and disseminate our evidence on what makes a difference to healthcare.

I aim for a future of nursing where the experienced and evidenced-based advice of nurses is considered in healthcare policymaking and service management. Where nurses are vocal and assertive contributors whose views are listened to and respected at tables of power with the top levels of government, corporations and academia.

Journalists in the mainstream media would have contact lists that contain the details of a full range of specialist nurses, major nursing organisations and unions. Individual nurses with specialised expertise would be valued, knowledgeable sources of information for health-related news.

Nurses from across the spectrum and specialties would be quoted regularly in stories relevant to their expertise in newspapers, magazines, radio, TV and online.

We’ll be involved in discussions, interviews and community debate on influential current affairs programs such as Nightline, A Current Affair, Q&A, as well as morning talk shows about developments in healthcare.

The perception that medical research is only a scientific endeavour would change, so that nursing research is respected and valued to a high level. Health experts, journalists, policymakers and the public would see nursing research as a dynamic field that expands knowledge about healthcare and the human condition. We would be viewed as ‘the bedside scientists’.

As the public became aware of our role in healthcare, its interest would create fundraising activities for research agendas led by nurses. This would result in increased government and private funding for our investigation and reporting of facts and new conclusions around healthcare services and systems.

The visibility of nurses in the mass media would reflect the expanded presence of nursing in ongoing discussions about healthcare. Nurses would be actively sought to speak in a broad spectrum of forums on healthcare in community centres, town meetings, state and territory capitals, churches, schools, universities, consumer and patient organisations, and economic conferences.

Newspaper columns and letters to the editor in national, state and local newspapers, which largely cover the views of organised medicine, would share the perspectives of the nursing profession. Articles on healthcare issues and analysis authored by nurses would appear in The Australian, The Economist and Business Today, to expand the knowledge and point of view of journalists and the public.

By working in partnership with patients, their families and carers, and by promoting health literacy, nurses enable patients and the community to take a greater role in their health and wellbeing. This could lead to full awareness of the vital function nurses play in the healthcare system to achieve patient recovery. Ultimately, that would lead to recognition that while it takes education and expertise to perform surgery, it also takes education and expertise to care for a patient following surgery.

Patients would seek out nurses. When medical treatments or procedures are required, patients can already select clinicians based on being fully informed about their credentials, patient outcomes, complaints or class-actions. Similarly, patients would seek information about the qualifications, nurse-to-patient ratios, skill mix and leadership styles of nurses who were providing treatments and care, as well as post-operative or discharge follow-up and support from nurses.

Patients would more easily understand that nurses have specialist expertise, just like physicians. And patients who receive these services from nurses who have specific education and experience could expect them to be recognised and eligible for rebates from health insurers and Medicare.

With the public clearly understanding the important role of nursing in healthcare, hospitals would place greater value on the nursing workforce. This would help alleviate ideas of the workforce being inexpensive, easily replaceable or interchangeable. Similarly, attempts to reduce nursing staff or substitute RNs for less trained and unregulated personnel to cut costs would evoke public outcry. Hospital management would demand their health service commence the Magnet Recognition Program journey.

This would all influence the budget allocations to nursing, signalling an increase in funds for nurse education and research. It would also underscore for the public that nurses, as well as medical interns and residents, are learners in hospitals and nurses and physicians are teachers in hospitals and other healthcare institutions.

Just as importantly, increased respect and recognition for the true work of the nursing workforce would result in more young women and men showing interest in nursing careers. With the choice of a nursing career being respected and admired by peers, family and the broader community. Just as female enrolment in medical schools gradually increased when it became more socially accepted for women to be physicians, the percentage of men willing to enrol in nursing education would also rise.

It is clear there is no health without health workers, and there are few health workers without nursing.

As the Queensland Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer, I was focused on a future for nursing that would overcome the challenges of nursing shortages, inadequate skill mixes, and a lack of nursing at top tables of healthcare services, boardrooms and governments. I envisioned a time when all nurses and communities would know our human health and wellbeing depended not only on medically necessary care, but also on necessary nursing care. I will build on this vision for the future of nursing in my new role as chief executive of the International Council of Nurses.

Frances Hughes is chief executive of the International Council of Nurses. She was previously chief nursing and midwifery officer at Queensland Health.

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