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What's in a name? The importance of definition and comparable data


  • Andrea Baumann RN, PhD

    Associate Vice President, Director, Scientific Director, Corresponding author
    1. WHO Collaborating Centre in Primary Care Nursing and Health Human Resources, Hamilton, Canada
    2. Nursing Health Services Research Unit, McMaster University Site, Hamilton, Canada
    • Global Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada
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Correspondence address: Dr. Andrea Baumann 1280 Main Street West, MDCL 3500, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada L8S 4K1; Tel: +1-905-525-9140 ext. 22581; Fax: +1-905-522-5493; E-mail:



The advent of a more planned approach to workforces has led to increased interest in knowing exactly what workforces do, how much they cost and who their members are. Heightened interest in health human resources has highlighted the need for accurate definitions of nurse and nursing role and emphasized the importance of accurate, valid and timely workforce data.


This commentary addresses some of the statements made in this issue by Currie and Carr-Hill (pp. 67–74) who ask, ‘What is a nurse? Is there an international consensus?’ General remarks about the importance of nursing health services data are also provided.


It is not surprising that nursing is struggling with standardization of definitions and role descriptions within and across countries. Globalization has intensified the need to understand complex relationships between systems such as education, finance and health that often differ from country to country.


Professional and/or regulatory nursing associations can facilitate standardization of definitions and strengthen data collection; both of which are imperative. The more titles we create, the more difficult it becomes to have a generalized taxonomy of nursing services locally, nationally and internationally. Working closely with agencies like the International Council of Nurses and the World Health Organization may lead to a much-needed consensus on common indicators within and across countries. Given the large size of the nursing workforce worldwide, nurses can play an important role in the creation of comparable data that can be used to set policies that will affect the delivery of quality health care.