International Nurses Day: Nurses continue to hold the front line in the fight for global health, says UP Nursing Professor

Posted on May 12, 2020

As the world battles the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems prescient that, in early 2019, the World Health Organization declared 2020 the Year of the Nurse and Midwife.

The intention of both the Year of the Nurse and Midwife and International Nurses Day (commemorated on 12 May annually) was to bring to light the profound impact that nurses and midwives have on the daily lives of the public. Nobody could have predicted that events seen so far in 2020 would so amplify and highlight the role nurses play across the globe.

Since its conception, nursing has been known to be both a science and an art. The history of nursing tells us that 2020 is also the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, the first nurse scientist, who initiated the evolution of nursing. Thanks to her efforts, nurse scientists delved into the depths of science to position nursing as a profession. Now, across the globe, the nursing profession is rooted in its duty to humanity, as endorsed by the Nurses’ Pledge of Service.

Closer to home, nursing in South Africa is guided by the philosophical beacons of light that form the core principles of nursing. Pioneered by Professor Charlotte Searle, these beacons outline the myriad of values that guide nursing activities and their service to humankind. According to these beacons, nursing is: 

  • A belief that nurses are charged with responsibility for themselves and their patients;
  • Faith for inner strength to help them in their work;
  • A yearning to be a worthy servant of humanity;
  • Acceptance of the uniqueness of each human being and their health needs;
  • Transcending the nurse-patient relationship to one between human beings;
  • Conservation of human life through change;
  • Assistance and support to both patients and those rendering care;
  • The use of scientific skills in provision of care;
  • Therapeutic use of the self, as it is love made visible.

Throughout the ages, nurses and midwives have been on the front line coming up with practical solutions to solve real and relevant health problems. The trend traces back to the mid-19th century Crimean War, when a nurse advocated for basic sanitary practices to underscore medical assistance to injured soldiers.

We can trace through history how these extraordinary people with extraordinary skills have and continue to improve patient care and health outcomes. During the 1939 polio outbreak, again it was a nurse who recommended that movement and physical therapy be integrated into the management of the disease. During the recent Ebola outbreak, a nurse used what was at hand to protect herself while taking care of those infected. The list can go on and on about what nurses and midwives are capable of as the backbone of our healthcare system.

We know and believe that nurses and midwives change lives on a daily basis.

In this time of uncertainty, nurses will continue to hold the front line as members of transdisciplinary teams around the world coming up with fast-paced responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Transdisciplinarity in healthcare provision has never been more important than right now. Through collective resilience and adaptability humankind will survive the pandemic as we forge ahead into the unknown. Through inclusive responses that put people first, teams will collaborate to defeat this life-threatening disease. Collaboratively, as nurses and the members of strong transdisciplinary teams, let us preach the means and ways to flatten the COVID-19 curve.

Despite the uncertainty we face globally let us celebrate the Year of the Nurse and Midwife with hope and pride.

Professor Shirley Mogale is Associate Professor in the Department of Nursing at the University of Pretoria.

- Author Professor Shirley Mogale

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