Having an impact on global health: the power of one, the power of many


In my inaugural acceptance speech in Melbourne, Australia, in the presence of four thousand nurses, I declared the watchword that will provide the focus and impetus for my tenure as ICN President: Impact. In this, my first column for the International Nursing Review (INR), I want to celebrate nurses, who have a huge impact day in and day out on lives, and on community policies and practices. As nurses, more than 16 million of us are concerned about the health of the people we serve, and the health and wellbeing of the people we would like to serve.

As the President of ICN, I take it upon myself to remind policymakers, decision makers and politicians that the health of their citizens depends on nurses. We are the backbone, the silent heroes and the experts of the health care services in many parts of our countries.

In turn, I ask each and every one of you to think about how you individually and we as a profession can make an impact. As a strong family of nurses – whether we work in the community, urban hospitals, corporate environments, research laboratories, schools or nursing homes – we all can make an impact. We have skills and tools that we can use to advocate for our patients and our colleagues, especially those working in the most challenging conditions.

While many barriers prevent us from being able to have the impact we would like to have, many points of contact exist where we as nurses can make an impact on global health. To have an impact, we need to be proactive, not reactive. We need to look with fresh eyes and bring new solutions to challenges.

I want to especially commend the impact of nurses who work in rural, remote and difficult to serve communities all over the world, in both low and high-income countries. Very often they are the ones concerned with the nutrition of children, maternal child issues, the terminally ill, unsafe practices and other issues. These nurses have an impact every day, shape communities and frequently influence community practices, policies and investments. They may be involved with a community garden, clean drinking water, child immunizations, training of hospice volunteers, setting up senior centres and meeting many other community needs.

These nurses can show us the way. They use their knowledge, relationships and experience to impact lives and advocate for the needs of the communities and the people they serve. These nurses know how to provide care, often with minimal resources, and at the same time, how to advocate for the needs of the community.

Do these nurses have an impact? You bet they do – thanks to their sheer drive, knowledge, compassion and commitment. Each of us has an obligation to remove the barriers to the impact that these nurses can make. All of us must remember these nurses, and offer the support and the voice that they need to be heard outside of their communities.

Nurse researchers must ask the question: ‘how can I help these nurses make use of the results of my studies’? We can all ask ourselves what we must do to bring new knowledge to these nurses and their communities. As an example, we can advocate to make sure that rural and remote communities have electronic access so that nurses can call in to a webinar or an on-line class. Even in my wealthy country of Canada, many remote communities do not have broadband access.

In closing, I ask each and every one of us to challenge ourselves. What is the one thing that you can do to support the practice and work of all nurses, and especially those practising in the most challenging situations? What is your commitment? I would like to hear from you. You can share your thoughts on how you personally, and nursing as a profession, can have an impact locally and globally by writing to me at president@icn.ch.