World Nurses Day: Time to improve nurses’ welfare

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Imenger while in hospital

In one of his recent remarks, titled “Protecting Americans’ access to affordable healthcare”, President of the United States of America, Joe Biden, narrated an anecdote about an ICU nurse who had left positive impressions on him during his stay at the Walter Reed Army Hospital, USA. In the beginning of his speech, he took his time to appreciate nurses and the role they play in global healthcare. He said:

“…but if there’s any angels in Heaven, they’re all nurses — male and female. You know why? You guys let us — you guys make us — allow us to live. Nurses make you want to live. I’m not joking”.

Today is a day reserved to celebrate nurses around the world for the crucial role that they play in the efficient delivery of healthcare services. The celebration stems from a long chain of history, which eventually culminated in May 12, 1974, in the International Day for Nurses celebrated globally. It is a commemoration of the birth of Florence Nightingale, the Lady with the Lamp, widely known for her immense contribution to the lives of wounded soldiers during the Crimean War, and to the birth of modern nursing.

The International Nurses Day is a day set aside to highlight the sacrifices of nurses and their struggles as to seeing that the world becomes healthier than they met it. It is a day reserved to appreciate nurses all over the world for their loving nature, and selflessness. The theme of this year’s celebration has been chosen by the ICN (International Council of Nurses) to be: Nurses: A Voice to Lead – Invest in Nursing and respect rights to secure global health. It is a call to governments and stakeholders in healthcare to prioritize members of the nursing profession for a healthier and disease-free world.

Despite the glaring fact that society, especially on the part of those who possess little knowledge regarding the intricacies of how the healthcare system operates, nurses are seen as merely doctor assistants, or a set of health professionals who solely administer medications to patients, and engage in other menial tasks in the hospital. But this is an erroneous perception. Nursing is a body of knowledge, it is a profession with vast roles specializations. Virginia Handerson, one of the key nursing figures of the 20th century defines nursing as “Assisting the individual, sick or well, in the performance of those activities contributing to health or its recovery (or to a peaceful death) that an individual would perform unaided if he had the necessary strength, will or knowledge”. This shows that nursing touches all aspects of the patient’s life, in and outside the hospital environment. Nurses are present at the beginning of life, through the phases of development and at the time of death. Using vast knowledge, experience and skill, nurses serve as caregivers, communicators, patient advocates, teachers, decision-makers and many more.

Nurses are arguably some of the most overworked, underappreciated and underpaid crop of healthcare workers in the world, despite their consequential and indispensable contribution to global health. Their role in the provision of quality healthcare service cannot be overemphasized. The relationship between the nurse and the patient avails other health professionals with the necessary knowledge, direction, and know-how as to providing a plan for treatment and recovery. The nurse provides human connection during not only the period of hospitalisation, but after it. Nurses are health educators and setters of good example both in the hospital and in the communities. Nurses serve as a source of emotional support for the patients, as well as their relatives in and out of the hospital.

Nurses will dress the most malodorous wounds, they will clean and disinfect the most irritating of ulcers and fistulas. Nurses will attend to patients without discrimination, they will empathize with their patients without an iota of judgement. Nurses are a category of humans that would lose sleep so others can, they can go through pain to see that a patient is free from it, they are a set of humans that would lose thelselves to make others. They are soldiers armed with plungers. Nurses see miracles, death and tears, and hearts like thiers is very rare. When the pain is very severe, trust that you’ll find them there. Nurses breathe life to those in despair, and restore hope to where there seems to be none.

Today signifies a great day in the lives of nurses globally, but for an average Nigerian nurse, it might not seem so. It might seem like just another day to wake up and go to work in an environment that doesn’t seem to appreciate the services that are being rendered. It is a day to selflessly care for some patients, whose relatives might show disdain instead of gratitude. A day to protect oneself from burnout, and the attitude and actions of sister professionals, patients or their relatives. It is a day to work in a country that misunderstands the crucial role nurses play in healthcare, a day to go to work and be perceived as merely a staff who administers medications, watches over patients, and offers other seemingly demeaning services for a crumb.

The nursing profession in Nigeria suffers misrepresentation in and outside of the media. It is bedevilled with a seemingly lack of commitment, which is fueled by poor remuneration. It is faced with unchecked impersonation, gender dominance, poor research culture owing to poor funding. It is faced with poor leadership and mentorship due to massive emigration of nurses to the developed world, and also apathy for further education due to cost. It is faced with intimidation in both the clinical and educational realms, poor and suffocating policies, inter and intra-professional conflicts, lack of funding into both educational and professional growth, a self-deprecating dichotomy, massive exodus for greener pastures, thereby contributing to brain drain, and a host of other pertinent problems. Actions taken to address these issues have been either absent or rather too slow to effect any tangible change.

Without doubt, government and other stakeholders in the health and educational sectors in Nigeria have contributed significantly to the growth of the nursing profession in recent years, but there’s room for many more. Amongst many recommended interventions, there is a need to encourage nurses with better academic and professional qualifications to venture into different areas of clinical practice, instead of sticking to the academia or flying abroad for a better life. This will strengthen and improve bedside care. There should be policies put in place to totally transform nursing programmes from being hospital-based to becoming university or college-based, in order to rub shoulders with sister professions in the healthcare system. There is a need to strengthen laws to check the indiscipline that is often reported in the healthcare sector, this will assist in curbing assaults and reducing cases of intimidation, gender dominance, and inter-professional conflicts. There is also a need to strengthen laws that will curtail the level of impersonation from poorly educated and untrained laymen, leading to quackery, which has led to the disability and death of many. There should be a provision of modern equipments and good work environment in order to meet up with care in other countries, as well as make work easier and care—more effective. The government and stakeholders in healthcare should take the issue of job descriptions seriously in order to fetter the degree of burnout, and to also check interference into nursing affairs and decision-making by professionals who are not nurses.

Today is the International Day for Nurses, it is a special day for not only nurses, but their lovely patients. it is important that you send kind words, or a message of appreciation to a nurse who has played a role in your life at one point or the other. It is a time of the year to show the nurses in your life that they matter, that they are also being cared for, that the kindness and altruism that they exude is not taken for granted.

Happy International Nurses Day celebration Nigeria.

Sulaiman, a graduate of Nursing Science, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria writes via [email protected].