Queen’s Nurse Catherine Best celebrates Nurses Day and looks back on the history of nursing, from Victorian times to the current pandemic.

Nursing:  A New Frontier                                                                  

As we welcomed in the Year of the Nurse and Midwife, little did we know that only a few short weeks later, we would be facing one of the greatest threats to our way of life; Covid-19; a pandemic. That nurses would be called upon to serve our country with courage and compassion; two of the fundamental principles of the 6Cs and that sadly for some, their courage would mean their untimely death.

As nurses across the globe, including our very own Queen’s Nurses here in Britain, answer the call to serve their countries and step up to face a challenge of unimaginable proportions. International Nurses Day 2020 presents an opportunity to pay tribute to a global workforce that has stood up and been counted. So, while this day has previously been played down, particularly in the general media, this year is going to be a global celebration.

But just before we do this, is it perhaps an opportune moment to reflect, for just a short moment, on those nurses who throughout history have committed their lives to ensuring those who are in greatest need, receive the greatest of care.

Nurses like Florence Nightingale, Mary Seacole and Edith Cavell. Their courage reflected in our nurses today, at a time when our world is at its most vulnerable; when nurses are needed the most. How far we have come since the days of Florence Nightingale. The iconic image of her carrying her lamp surveying death and disease all around, is still seen as an image that encourages students into nurse training. No matter what your views of Nightingale, it is difficult to ignore the contribution she made at a time when nursing care was dramatically failing.

As we celebrate the 200th anniversary of her birth, we reach back into a time when nursing was comprised of an untrained and unskilled workforce, when nurse education was informal and unregulated and it was not yet considered a profession at all. Much of the work undertaken by Nightingale was to establish education within nursing, but it wasn’t until The Nurses Registration Act of 1919, which helped to establish the General Nursing Council, that we began to see the foundations laid for the development of the well-educated and highly skilled professional workforce that we see today.

Nurses shine a strong light on the inequalities that exist. They illuminate the impact of disease and suffering in all its forms and seek ways in which to overcome the prejudice that taints society today.

Catherine Best, Queen's Nurse

So, for those of you who may be considering nurse training now or when this crisis has abated please read on; for there is no finer role I have ever come across that comes close to being a nurse.

If you want to find out more, you will benefit from looking at the QNI’s film about community nursing, the Nursing and Midwifery Council information on becoming a nurse, midwife or nursing associate and the Royal College of Nursing website on how to become a nurse.

Nurses play a part in every aspect of life, from the beginning right through to the end. They are by our sides during our school days and into our working life. They sit with our family member as they peacefully slip away; they hold our hands as we grieve, help to pick up the pieces of our shattered lives and they do this every single day, come rain or shine. As a registered nurse, the opportunities to build your career are outstanding, and with time, will come new opportunities still in their fledgling state today.

Nurses shine a strong light on the inequalities that exist. They illuminate the impact of disease and suffering in all its forms and seek ways in which to overcome the prejudice that taints society today.

Global poverty strikes at the very souls of nurses. They understand the impact of poverty on health, disease, hunger and deprivation, a combination, that destroys the lives of millions.

You may think that we have eliminated such diseases as Typhoid and Cholera, but think again, for although less common now, at least in the UK, these diseases continue to pose a risk to a global public health as outlined in the blog  ‘Are Victorian diseases making a comeback’.

Encouragingly, the United Nations has in recent months, made significant inroads in obtaining the commitment of some countries, to provide universal healthcare coverage in 4 key areas. Nurses understand the impact of inadequate and poor service delivery  and are therefore crucial in ensuring universal health coverage. They understand the need for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, ‘the blueprint through which we can achieve a better and more sustainable future for all’ and the need for high quality leadership, as demonstrated by the recent Nightingale Challenge. As the State of the world’s nursing report shows, there is still so very much more we can do to invest in nursing, including nurse education, jobs and leadership. Nursing is worth this investment.

Nursing has evolved to become one of the most trusted and respected professions in the world and in 2019 the commitment of all nurses and midwives was recognised by the World Health Organisation as they declared 2020 the Year of the Nurse and Midwife. Sadly, these celebrations have been put on hold. However, this recognition, ‘is likely to be extended beyond 2020’ and we do, of course, welcome this news with open arms. When we do celebrate the whole world will stand together.

International Nurses Day 2020

Until then let’s continue to celebrate in whichever way we can in recognition of the great work that nurses do. Nurses: A Voice to Lead – Nursing the World to Health is the theme for International Nurses Day 2020. During a time of incredulous pressure on the global nursing workforce, the theme focuses on the “true value of nurses to the people of the world”.

We have come a long way since I wrote my blog for International Nurses Day in 2018 when I emphasised the importance of nurses finding their voice and becoming a voice to lead.

Today, I think that we may just have found it.

So, as we celebrate the theme of International Nurses Day 2020 Nurses: A Voice to Lead – Nursing the World to Health

Shouldn’t it be nurses: a voice to lead – nursing the world (back) to health.

I’ll leave you to decide.

Catherine Best QN

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