Reflections: International Nurses Day

Each year, the International Council of Nurses celebrates International Nurses Day on May 12th, the birth date of Florence Nightingale. I read that there was a lobby to change the date since it was felt that Florence Nightingale no longer represented ‘modern’ nursing. Although she lived in an era that included very few rights for women, she had an impact on women’s lives, health and nursing that is felt to this day. Some of her achievements were the use of statistics to demonstrate the detrimental effects of poor sanitation on health and mortality in the Crimean War and with soldiers in India. Subsequent sanitation reforms reduced mortality.  She was credited with social reforms that improved health care and she laid the foundations for the first secular nursing school in the world.

Almost two hundred years after her birth, one wonders what Florence Nightingale would think of modern nursing. Standards for nursing care are reflected in regulation in most countries and schools of nursing promote evidence based practice.  With very few exceptions, nurses work in every part of every health care system.  In 2008 I attended the International Nurse Practitioner/Advanced Practice Nursing conference in Toronto, Canada with speaker Steven Lewis. He spearheads the Steven Lewis Foundation, an NGO that supports AIDS and HIV grassroots organizations in Africa. He said with emotion, that if it wasn’t for nurses, there would be no health care in the places he had been to in Africa.  So, why is it, with high standards of education, a commitment to evidence based practice and tremendous responsibilities in nursing roles across the globe, do nurses continue to have to fight for recognition and respect?

We’re a profession under stress and under attack. A recent survey of 4500 nurses from across Canada demonstrated that 40% were experiencing burnout and 25% would not recommend the hospital where they worked http://bit.ly/10H0nhn. Job stress is extreme in nursing with many repercussions to health care.  Across the ocean in the UK, the answer to the outcomes of stressful working conditions for nurses is to create new entry to practice requirements such as a year as a support worker to boost compassion of those that then seek nursing licensure http://bit.ly/11jGLW5.

Getting back to Florence Nightingale.  The clear message from her biography is not the specific accomplishments, although there were many.  The message is her tireless work to create positive change.  If she were here today, I think she’d do the same and, as International Nurses Day approaches, this is the message for all of us.

Roberta Heale

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