Year of the nurse and the midwife? Is it ever
As Florence Nightingale did almost two centuries ago, nurses and midwives in 2020 are working at the front line against an unseen and lethal enemy, and often in makeshift hospitals and wards.
When 2020 was designated the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, COVID-19 had yet to generate a single headline.
Now it is dominating life all over the planet. And what a year in the spotlight our nurses and midwives are having.
Globally, they are on the frontline, putting their own health and wellbeing at risk while they care for the millions of people diagnosed with COVID-19, from tiny babies and pregnant mums to our oldest citizens.
Headlines now foreshadow one awful story after another, documenting the toll of lives lost and health workers challenged, day after day, in this once-in-a-century public health emergency.
This year also marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, who tended the wounded and dying during the Crimean War.
The timing is not lost on UTS Head of Nursing and Midwifery Professor Tracy Levett-Jones, who says nurses and midwives in 2020 are called by the same sense of duty as Nightingale and her army nurses, working at the front line to fight an unseen enemy, and often in makeshift hospitals and wards.
There seems to be a growing recognition that nurses and their healthcare colleagues really are the heroes of our generation.
Professor Tracy Levett-Jones
“Although much has changed over the past 200 years, some things have stood the test of time – nurses’ willingness to ‘step up’, work together and quietly take on challenges, often in uncharted territories and despite risk to self,” says Professor Levett-Jones.
“Despite society’s usual expectation that nurses will rise to the occasion, there seems to be a growing recognition that nurses and their healthcare colleagues really are the heroes of our generation.”
As an educator of nurses and midwives, UTS is ranked 1st in Australia and 7th in the world, and UTS nursing and midwifery academics are offering important skills and knowledge during this public health emergency.
Professor Margaret Fry is a director of research and practice development at Northern Sydney Local Health District, where services are being remodelled into “hot and cold zones” to ensure people are able to access health services but remain safe from COVID-19. The nursing workforce is being strengthened to underpin delivery of critical care services and the ventilation of patients with COVID-19.
Professor of Nursing Marilyn Cruickshank is one of Australia’s leading infection control nurses, who has been providing expert advice during the pandemic. She’s also working on a project to examine the impact of media on national and state policy during COVID-19. She says nurses have unique skills and knowledge that need to be heard and taken seriously at state, national and international forums.
All women have the right to a positive childbirth experience, whether or not they have a confirmed COVID-19 infection.
Dr Christine Catling
Associate Professor Sally Inglis is a Heart Foundation future leader fellow, and says telehealth and other digital health platforms could be key to treating cardiovascular disease during the COVID-19 pandemic. She says there is anecdotal evidence people are avoiding calling 000 and attending hospital for acute cardiovascular and stroke events, and they need to be encouraged to stay connected to medical services.
Dr Christine Catling, director of midwifery studies at UTS, is focused on the safety and wellbeing of both midwifery students, who must attend clinical placements to further their studies, and women giving birth, who may be seeking alternatives such as midwife-supported home birth. The position of the World Health Organisation is that all women have the right to a positive childbirth experience, whether or not they have a confirmed COVID-19 infection.
Professor of Palliative Medicine Meera Agar is chair of the Australian Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Palliative Care Working Group, which is preparing a national strategy in the event COVID-19 leads to unprecedented loss of life. Professor of Palliative Nursing Jane Phillips, who is also a member of the working group, says it is important we are prepared for the likelihood that palliative care clinicians will have to care for those dying as a result of this virus.
Earlier this month, the first State of the World’s Nursing report was released by the World Health Organisation. It gives the first ever snapshot of the global nursing workforce – 28 million strong but with a demonstrated need for a further 6.6 million nurses by 2030. A WHO report documenting midwifery around the world will be released later in 2020.
To our students: you are the health workforce of the future and we need you.
UTS Dean of Health Suzanne Chambers
UTS Dean of Health Professor Suzanne Chambers, a health psychologist and registered nurse, says the report is important as data on the global nursing workforce enables us to navigate change.
In an uncertain time for students, Professor Chambers urges students to focus on the reasons they’re enrolled to study nursing and midwifery.
“We really need you to be focused on your career goals not just for yourself and your family but also for the community,” she says.
“You are the health workforce of the future and we need you.”
This story is part of an occasional series to mark the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife in 2020.