The invaluable role of nurses

Each year on 12 May, we celebrate International Nurses’ Day and reflect on the invaluable role of nurses in our health care system from the very beginning of life to the very end. Nurses are caregivers, role models, educators, mentors, and advocates and directly impact the health and well-being of patients. During the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses have become more visible and brought to the forefront of the public’s attention.

This year’s theme for International Nurses’ Day announced by the International Confederation of Nurses is Nurses: A Voice to Lead – Invest in nursing and respect rights to secure global health, focusing on the need to protect, support, and invest in the nursing profession to strengthen health systems around the world.

One sad result of the pandemic is that nurses are leaving the profession burnt out and broken. As the largest health care profession, it is clear there is no health without nurses. The wellbeing of the nation’s nursing workforce is fundamental to the wellbeing of our country. Yet, despite the necessity of nurses and decades of discussions around the growing worldwide shortage of nurses, robust workforce planning has not progressed.

The most common solution proposed is increasing the number of training positions. New graduates alone won’t fix the problem. New graduate nurses, if they can find work, are leaving before their careers even start. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Australia needed to become better able to attract, transition, and retain locally trained nurses.

Australia has always relied heavily on nurses from overseas. Of the OECD countries, data collected from 2017 to 2018 showed only Switzerland and New Zealand were more reliant on a foreign-trained workforce.

Now more than ever, Australia must not rely on other nations to provide a sustainable health workforce. Many countries where large numbers of internationally qualified nurses travel to work in Australia, such as the Philippines and India, desperately need to maintain the size and capacity of their health workforces, and it is unethical to depend on other countries to provide Australia with nurses and when there is potential to increase the employment of locally trained nurses.

The solution to our nursing workforce’s woes lies in respect. New graduates deserve a workplace culture that allows them to thrive. A respectful workplace where they are welcomed and provided with support and resources to gain confidence and skills will increase job satisfaction, safety, and retention. Investment in professional development for all nurses and flexible career pathways will grow future leaders and not penalise the female-dominated workforce. Respect within the multidisciplinary team that delivers health care

Nurses deserve respect to work to their full scope of practice. Australia has a skilled and highly qualified nursing workforce which, while critical in determining national health outcomes, is vastly under-utilised. Nurses do not have opportunities to realise their full potential and optimally contribute to the health, aged, maternity, disability, mental health, and primary health care sectors. Current funding and structures within these sectors restrict peoples’ choices for the type of clinician and model of care used to treat and manage their injuries, illnesses, and conditions.

Respect to listen to and consult with nurses when developing health policies at State and Federal levels. As the largest profession in the health care sector, nurses bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the table to guide the development of health policies that protect and promote optimal health outcomes for the community.

As part of the global community, we must also have respect for our neighbours, especially those that are facing more significant challenges. Rather than taking their workers to supplement our system, we should be looking at what we can do to build their nurses’ resilience and sustainability and share resources and opportunities.

This year on International National Nurses’ Day, keep respect in the forefront of your mind.