Has the social perception of nursing personnel changed throughout the pandemic? We nurses would like to think so.
After the emotional applause from the windows and rooftops during the exhausting and endless weeks of the beginning of the home confinement by Covid-19, fourteen months ago, what is left?
The true potential of Nursing
It is now twenty-five years since Hannu Vuori, then the representative of Turkey to the World Health Organization (WHO), argued bluntly in the foreword to a book on public health and community nursing that ‘the nursing staff constitutes a large part of the budget of health care in each country ”. Also that “most of the countries do not take full advantage of this resource.”
Power, gender, and medicalization, Vuori continued, undermine the use of their full potential. Thus, “in no European country do nursing professionals play a full role in policy-making and decision-making at all levels of the healthcare system.”
He also added that “Medicine dominates the entire European health system”, despite the fact that “the nursing staff is the backbone of the entire health care system.”
The WHO Nursing in Action project was under way, in which the universal concerns that affect nursing professional performance were identified.
A quarter of a century later, in 2019, the 72nd World Health Assembly of the WHO adopted the decision to approve the project “2020: International Year of Nursing and Midwifery Personnel”. It also coincided with the bicentennial of the birth of Florence Nightingale (1820–1910), a British nurse, writer and statistician, considered the forerunner of modern professional nursing.
In parallel, WHO and the International Council of Nurses collaboratively led a three-year global campaign (2018-2020) called Nursing Now. Their goal was to improve health by raising the profile and status of Nursing around the world.
It was a campaign to empower nurses to take their place in tackling the health challenges of the 21st century. Also with which to vindicate its figure as a primary agent in the promotion and protection of health and in the prevention of disease. Finally, as a dynamic element of community intervention and community development processes.
A campaign aimed at maximizing its contribution to achieve universal health coverage, in accordance with the strategy of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG, 2015-2030) proposed by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015.
Ultimately, a campaign focused on five main areas: ensuring that nurses and midwives have a more prominent voice in health policy formulation; encourage greater investment in the nursing workforce; recruit more nurses for leadership positions; conduct research that helps determine where nurses can have the greatest impact; and exchange the best nursing practices.
2020, the year of Nursing
2020 was destined to be the year of Nursing. A crucial moment in history in which to celebrate events and institutional acts of a planetary nature. A moment to enhance the integrity and value of a profession characterized by a marked vocation.
A year, in short, in which to be able to remove the slab of invisibility to which it has been condemned for decades or even centuries, despite having always been where it was needed. In which to reveal the existence of Invisible Nurses: Inventors, invincible, incredible, as stated in the title of the book for all audiences, signed by Olga Navarro and Vanessa Ibáñez and illustrated by Irene Bofill.
It is not possible here to delve too deeply into the reasons for this age-old invisibility, closely linked to the aforementioned factors of power, gender and medicalization. Of course, curiosity can begin to be quenched by turning to the work of Bárbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre Englis.
Nurses, male nurses and a pandemic
What happened to Nursing as a result of Covid-19 is already known to the whole world. Annette Kennedy, president of the International Council of Nurses, argues that the pandemic has raised the visibility of nurses like never before. In addition, it shows that they are indispensable for health care.
According to Kennedy, the pandemic has changed the way we live, socialize, work, interact and provide health care.
The “health battle” has risen to an unintended role. Nursing has dealt with him in a selfless and disciplined way. With an unbearable lack of means, not only in the material, if not in the human.
This has been a sacrifice reminiscent of recent nuclear disasters. This is the case, for example, of Chernobyl (1986) or Fukushima (2011), the oil spills after the sinking of the Prestige (2002) or the Deepwater Horizon platform in the Gulf of Mexico (2010). All of them had to face a scarcity of resources, with great doses of improvisation and with negligible risk to the lives of those who operated in the field.
Medicalization and gender. Alternative points of view
The “miracle” of the vaccine constitutes a medicalized response (eminently oriented to cure, based on preventive measures) with which one stops questioning what has been an environmental aggression, historically shaped by the way (imposed) in which the society produces its goods and reproduces its subsistence. The return to “normalcy” in affluent societies gives the impression that it translates into being able to enjoy the same consumption and waste quotas prior to the pandemic. Or more.
There are economic interpretations that are of great interest to Nursing, insofar as they emphasize and value the dimension of care. Although not in its individual care aspect, yes in relation to the primacy of caring for the environment, the infiltration of the culture of care in all aspects of life and in social structures.
From a gender perspective, there is an irritating parallel between the indolence and contempt that patriarchal societies manifest towards the culture of care, with the low value that health services give to Nursing.
In this sense, the professionals who spend the longest time in contact with the people and families served by the health system have little or no influence on the intricacies of their management. A recent example? The absent voice of Nursing in the drafting of Organic Law 2/2021, of March 24, regulating euthanasia in Spain.
May 12, International Nursing Day
Thus, on May 12, we once again celebrated the International Nursing Day, established by the International Council of Nursing in 1965. As in other aspects of society, the change in perception by ordinary people has long ago that has started.
The applause at the windows and rooftops does not respond to a change in perception. They respond to an opportunity to be able to express an acknowledgment that until then had not been possible in a massive way, although it was expressed in the privacy of a consultation, a home, or now, a screen.
The university degree of the degree allows you to develop a professional, teaching and research career. However, it is necessary to deal with historical injustices, such as the fact that nurses, when they get a place in the Spanish Public Administration, enter group A2 and are banned from group A1.
Nursing may not need a change in social perception. It may all come down to the fact that Covid-19 has revealed the debt in social justice that the world has contracted with Nursing.
This article has been published in ‘The Conversation’.