International Nurses Day was a particularly special one this year, not just because it marked the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth, but in the context of the extraordinary work healthcare workers all over the world are engaged in as they combat the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
In light of the current world scenario, there has never been a better time to acknowledge the role of nurses as the first line of defense. Nurses and midwives make up more than 50 per cent of the health workforce in several countries. Of the 43.5 million healthcare workers in the world today, it is estimated that 20.7 million are nurses and midwives. WHO has designated 2020 as the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, to recognise the contributions they make. WHO estimates that there will be a worldwide deficit of nine million nurses and midwives by 2030, unless radical action is taken to reverse the situation.
Universities can play a crucial role in creating a workforce that is prepared to meet diverse patients’ needs, and function as leaders in advancing the science that benefits patients and builds the capacity of health professionals to deliver safe, quality patient care. Nursing education today has to prepare graduates to work collaboratively and effectively with other health professionals in a complex and evolving health care system across a variety of settings. Educators are tasked with assuring contemporary, evidence-based learning opportunities that strengthen the nursing workforce while also serving as role models and mentors to the future generations of nurses.
Bridging the economic divide and providing stable career opportunities has never been more imperative. Becoming a nurse opens a world of possibilities for women and men alike. Therefore, providing education that can ensure a secure job and income in a globally demanding profession helps enhance the overall economic growth of a country while advancing gender equality in the workforce. The evidence exists for the socioeconomic benefits of an increased number of women in the workforce. Schools and universities have a responsibility to ensure future generations are prepared and ready to contribute to the world’s most fundamental priority - healthcare.
In the UAE, public health officials have urged more Emiratis to consider full-time careers in nursing. In 2019, the Ministry of Health & Prevention revealed that only 8 per cent of the UAE nursing workforce are UAE nationals. The establishment of the UAE Nursing and Midwifery Council (UAE NMC) in 2009, reflects the government’s commitment to strengthening the professional status of nursing and midwifery and acknowledging that high quality nursing services are critical in maintaining the health and well-being of the people of the UAE. NMC’s main purpose is to determine strategic directions for the professional standards and practice of nursing and midwifery through creating evidence-based standards and policies that, in turn, can be utilised by organisations to ensure high quality nursing care and patient outcomes.
With four universities in the UAE currently offering programmes in nursing to interested students, the onus is now on enthusiastic young students to reorient their priorities to align with the demands of the world’s labour market in selecting careers that can truly make a difference – to themselves and to the human race at large.
By Dr Suzanne Robertson-Malt, Associate Professor and Programme Director for Health programmes (Nursing and Allied Health) at University of Wollongong in Dubai