Happy International Nurses Day

Countries around the world celebrate International Nurses Day on the 12th of May. The same day when Ms. Florence Nightingale was born.

Or do they?

The International Nurses Day has been celebrated since 1965, but when it was first introduced in the USA back in 1953, then then president, Mr. Dwight D. Eisenhower did not approve it. It took more than 10 years for nurses to get their recognised day. It is now celebrated on the 12th of May because today marks the birthday of Ms. Florence Nightingale, the mother of modern nursing, Lady with the Lamp.

Each year, the International Council of Nurses (ICN) sets the theme for the day, and this year, the theme is Our Nurses. Our Future. An important theme, as the modern world seems to undervalue the nursing profession so much that there is a global shortage of nurses.

Our Nurses. Our Future. sets out what ICN (International Council of Nurses) wants for nursing in the future in order to address global health challenges and improve global health for all. We need to learn from the lessons of the pandemic and translate these into actions for the future that ensure nurses are protected, respected, and valued.

Dr. Pamela Cipriano, ICN President

When the Covid-19 pandemic began, my family and I were living in Fuengirola, Spain. We sat down in a cafe, wondering how long the lockdown would last, and thought it would be a week, two at the most. It ended up being months. Whilst we spent the time nicely indoors, my thoughts turned to my colleagues in hospitals. They were the ones standing in the frontlines facing this new and unprecedented, invisible threat that no one knew anything about. That’s why, out of respect, we participated every evening in the communal clapping at our balconies, whilst the police cars would drive around with their sirens on and lights blinking.

Now, several years later, the situation has changed, the rules are relaxed, and Covid-19 is no longer disrupting the travel and everyday lives of people. So has the attitudes of people and the governments. Now, nurses who dare to demand more salary and recognition are seen as overpaid and greedy water glass changers, who should be happy that they have a job.

For me, one of the worst things is that the political decision makers are trying to place the blame on the whole shortage of nurses to those of us who dare to come forward and openly talk about the issues we are facing every day at work. Apparently, according to them, the problem is that we highlight these issues, and that, in turn, turns away potential new nurses from starting to work as they are too afraid and disillusioned.

When we are not respected, even though tens of thousands of nurses perished globally during the Covid-19 pandemic, whilst fighting in the frontline, we will not meekly bow down our heads and take what we are given. Instead, we have finally found our voices collectively and indivially, and with those voices, we will take our profession to the future.

If this means highlighting problems in the health care field, we see this as something that needs to be addressed, not silenced and pretended that problems do not exist. As nurses, we need to address uncomfortable topics as part of our work.

Nurses provide care and leadership to address global health challenges everywhere, often at great personal risk. They are the essential life force for health, yet our healthcare systems worldwide have fallen short and failed to value, protect, respect and invest in this precious resource. The world has mistakenly taken nurses for granted, treating them as an invisible and inexhaustible resource. That must now stop for the sake of nurses and global health.

Dr. Pamela Cipriano, ICN President

We nurses invest in our knowledge each and every day. We train ourselves, and we update our knowledge of different procedures and practises based on research. At the same time, when reading job adverts, I see the lack of respect and reluctance to compensate that same experience and skill with proper salary, time, and time again.

Some companies go even as far as to mention “free coffee during work hours” as a perk to apply for the job. Some advertise “occupational health care” as a benefit, even though this is a basic legal requirement, at least in Finland. This patronising attitude towards the nurses might seem funny to some, but for us nurses, it is a cheap shot that underestimates our intellect and degree that we have gained.

Currently, the war in Europe has hitched up inflation, and living costs have risen greatly. Some people have had to sell their homes because they do not have the possibility to pay the rising costs of the loans, transportation fees, food, heating, etc. But the salaries, at least on the health care sector, and especially in nursing, are non-negotiable. Obviously, costs for the companies are rising as well, and companies have responsibilities for their shareholders first and foremost. But if there are no workers, who will pay for the shareholders and there is no one to serve the customers?

Even as I write this blog, there are over 15 000 nurses, basic nurses, and registered nurses in Finland alone who have left the profession to find more humane working conditions and better salary, and there is no longer a queue to apply to become new nurses. So can the companies afford not to meet the possible candidates halfway anymore when it comes to salary and work conditions?

As in other fields, the companies in the health care sector need to start to see the nurses as investments for the company, not just expenditures. After all, we are the ones who are there when a baby is born and when the person draws their last breath – and in everything in between. We truly are the heirs of Florence Nightingale’s mantle, carrying the lamp in the dark of the night.

Not only do we take care of our patients, by treating wounds, making sure they get out of bed to recuperate, to make sure they eat properly, they get their medicines orally, intramuscular, intravenous, and so on, but we also protect them. We stand by them when they need to make difficult decisions, and we make sure that they have all the information they need to have to make a sound decision and so much more. We protect them from other patients who are afraid and unsure where they are because of memory illnesses, we stand by if there is a need for CPR all of a sudden, we assist them off the floor when they fall down. The list of tasks we do for our patients is never ending.

All we ask in exchange is recognition, visibility, and appreciation from you and from our employers.

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