As I joined a candlelight vigil for nurses hosted by the Centaur Memorial Fund to recognise and acknowledge our Military nurses ahead of ANZAC Day, I was reminded of the sacrifices that my colleagues have made during war; enduring hardship, loss, disease, injury and illness in ways that are unimaginable to most. The legacy of nursing and midwifery throughout times of war, trauma, epidemics and pandemics is significant. It is estimated that more than 100 nurses and midwives have lost their lives to COVID-19 globally., Many are also included in the more than 23,000 healthcare workers who are still unwell or have recovered from COVID-19 infection.
2020 marks the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth and is also the World Health Organisation’s International Year of the Nurse and Midwife. When the World Health Assembly ratified this momentous acknowledgment, they could not have understood how critical the role of nurses and midwives would be in caring for the millions of people impacted by COVID-19. Challenges with accessing appropriate PPE, redeployment to pandemic related health services and concerns for the health and wellbeing of usual patient groups are currently intersecting with the innovative practice of nurses and midwives to adapt health care service delivery to accommodate patient and health system needs.
This International Year of the Nurse and Midwife will truly be remembered for the outstanding work of nurses and midwives in the pursuit of health and wellbeing for communities in Australia and around the world. Paramount at this time is the role of midwives in upholding the rights of women and their babies to ensure safe and equitable care during pregnancy, birth and postnatally and for nurses to continue to provide holistic person-centred care throughout the lifespan.
As I reflect on my own career as a nurse, I think of my colleagues in clinical, education, research and academic roles and their enormous contribution to the profession and to the care and management of individuals, families and communities at large. I am so proud to be a nurse and part of a profession that has the privileged opportunity to be involved in the best and worst of individual life journeys.
Whilst I am not currently working frontline in the COVID-19 response, I would like to acknowledge and pay my respects to colleagues who are providing care to people at risk of and with COVID-19. Many of whom have been redeployed from their usual roles to join the efforts. I also acknowledge those working to support our nursing student colleagues with their now online training, so vastly different to what Florence Nightingale could ever have perceived when she established the first nursing school at St Thomas’ Hospital London in 1860. Finally, to those researching the impact of COVID-19 on the role of nurses, and the psychosocial impacts of this virus on them as health care professionals but also community members, parents and caregivers. This research will be crucial as we continue to care and support each other beyond the COVID-19 response, acknowledging the impacts we are yet face.
The International Council of Nurses, notes that “As the largest group of frontline health professionals caring for the health needs of individuals and communities, nurses have powerful stories to tell that can help to bring about positive change.” When I asked some of my nursing and midwifery colleagues what being a nurse or midwife means in 2020, there were several who were generous enough to share their stories. Florence Nightingale is aptly quoted with this reflection on the nursing profession; “What is nursing? Both kinds of nursing are to put us in the best possible conditions for nature to restore or preserve health—to prevent or to cure disease or injury.3 Please read my colleagues reflections on their roles in restoration, preservation and prevention in relation to individual and community health and what it means for them to be a nurse in 2020.
Happy International Nurses and Midwives Day to my colleagues!
Clinical Nurse Lead Nursing Program, ASHM
Liz Crock – Clinical Nurse Consultant HIV (Bolton Clarke, Melbourne) and ASHM Board member
I have had the enormous privilege of working as a nurse throughout the HIV epidemic, and for the last 20 years in the community setting, looking after people living with HIV in their own homes and some who are homeless. I was drawn to HIV nursing because I saw it as ‘ethics in action’, where nurses had the freedom to nurse and to take a stand against what were blatant injustices against people living with HIV and those 'at risk’, often simply by providing care. Nurses advocated for people living with HIV, they tackled fear and stigma by example in their everyday work, through the everyday practices of nursing. To face a second epidemic in our lifetime, having lived through the HIV epidemic, has given us an incredible opportunity to impart the lessons learned and to highlight the global significance of nursing, and of the importance of supporting nurses and midwives worldwide. Not only this, we are also blessed with this year being the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife, providing us with a unique period in history to make our work visible and strengthen our voice.
Nurses and midwives work quietly and competently behind the scenes; terms such as devoted, nurturing, kindness and compassion readily come to mind when thinking of nursing and nurses. Perhaps because their work is often of an intimate and personal nature, there is not a widespread real understanding of what nurses do, until people need it. But at all times, and especially in times of crisis, the nursing profession’s strengths are demonstrated: their courage, their practical wisdom, their protectiveness of their clients/patients, their communication skills tailored to each individual, their constancy, their vigilance, and perhaps above all, their ability to put 'ethics into action' when the stakes are high.
Let us not forget that the protections and practices we have now in the time of COVID-19 derived from the actions of our peers, of HIV activists and the nurses who cared for them and worked with them. The theme for this year is: International Nurses Day is ' A Voice to Lead, Nursing the Wold to Health' - how very true and how poignant
Lyn Byers - Registered Nurse and Midwife (Rural and Remote Health, Northern Territory)
In mid-March this year, I went out to very remote Australia, not knowing when I would be able to come back to my home. As a Remote Area Nurse and Midwife, I work with an extremely vulnerable population group. COVID-19 is transmitted through droplets and contact. We are reminded not to touch our mouths, noses or eyes and if we do to wash our hands. Eighty percent of people with COVID-19 display no symptoms. That person could be me or the patient I am caring for. Over the past few weeks, I have reflected on how my practice and the delivery of health care in very remote Australia has and will continue to change. Never again can I look for a red sore throat, considering Rheumatic fever, without wearing gloves, mask and googles. Never again can I do an eye or dental check without wearing gloves, mask and googles. Respiratory triage is becoming a normality.
Remote Area Nurses and Midwives are upskilling in environmental cleaning and infection control. Many of these new practices add time to our consultations. Less people are being seen. I cannot see as many people in a day as I used to, however I can make sure that each person I do see is protected from any virus I may transmit and that I and my family are protected from any virus they might transmit. There is a deep satisfaction in providing quality care, including protection from infection, to each individual person. I am proud to be a Remote Area Nurse and Midwife, celebrating the International Year of the Nurse & Midwife. On International Nurses Day, 12th May and International Day of the Midwife, 5th May I will be working in solidarity with the many other Remote Area Nurses and Midwives, supporting vulnerable populations across Australia.
Vaughan McLachlan - Practice Nurse (Gladstone Road Medical Centre, Brisbane)
Being a Nurse in 2020.
Nursing at this point in time has been proven to be an extremely important role, especially during the COVID-19 outbreak. From a sexual health point of view we’ve seen a decrease in STI’s at Gladstone Road Medical Centre – which in my opinion can underline the effects of social distancing and self-isolation.
However working in any sector of health is challenging and stressful. With International Nurses’ day around the corner, I believe it’s important to congratulate each and everyone of us for how we’ve learnt to adapt to these rapidly changing circumstances. Infection control is considered a normal part of nursing practice, but under the current pandemic and uncertainty of the future it definitely has increased the pressure. From changing daily practices, administering vaccinations in the car park, educating/informing patients, reducing anxiety and fears – the 2020 nurse is a solid foundation and attribute of the healthcare system (especially now!).
With that said, we all need to take some time for ourselves and practice self-care. We need to support each other and look after each other to provide the best quality of care for our patients. Stay calm, stay safe, look after yourself and your colleagues.
Clinton Morgan - Practice Nurse (Queensland Council for LGBTI Health, Brisbane)
Working as a nurse is always a mix of reward, gratitude, challenge and at times shock. Coming across from a Tertiary trauma facility emergency department to primary care and sexual health it is more rewarding and challenging than shocking, however I’m always grateful for the opportunity to continue working and to help my community. During a time when people are losing their jobs, their livelihoods and loved ones, I am very grateful to be able to maintain a sense of ‘normality’ not only through the routine of work and reassurance through regular income but to continue helping those who don’t need illness or health concerns to compound their growing list of issues. I am proud to be a nurse and to provide the same holistic healthcare as before, just with an adapted and evolving approach.
Wearing PPE and compulsively cleaning workspaces after every patient is necessary however working in the sexual health and HIV sector, it draws upon the history and plight of those living with HIV since the 1980s. The era of fear and ignorance where simple contact with those people was avoided for fear of contracting the virus. I am conscious of this, especially when interacting with the older population who have lived through that era and have first-hand experience with the discrimination and anxiety that their community and even health professionals displayed. So, I find myself explaining the PPE I’m wearing and come from a perspective of safety for the client and myself in hopes to alleviate any notion of discrimination or ignorance on our behalf.
Tracey Jones - Hepatology Nurse Practitioner (Justice Health and Forensic Mental Health Network, New South Wales)
I have completed 38 years as a nurse. During those 38 years I have had the opportunity to work in some of the most ground-breaking and interesting areas within the nursing sector including HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C, correctional settings, and now COVID-19.
In 1986, I volunteered to work in my local area’s first purpose built unit, to care for patients diagnosed with HIV and AIDS. That decision lead to one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences of my life, and I remained with that team for the next 10 years.
I did not think that it would be possible for me to experience the camaraderie, compassion and endless support of a talented team to that extent again after leaving the HIV unit but I was wrong. Moving into the hepatology sector provided me with access to an abundance of dynamic, forward thinking nurses who invigorated both me and my passion for nurses, nursing education and the value that we provide to the health sector.
I have had the opportunity on many occasions to promote the role of the nurse. Being a founding member and inaugural President of the AHA is one of my proudest achievements. Now I am working within correctional settings, assisting in the management of the current COVID-19 pandemic. Once again and without a second thought, my nursing colleagues have rallied to take on different roles, expand their knowledge and support our community to stay safe.
I am proud to say that I am a nurse!!