The World Health Organization (WHO) has proclaimed 2020 to be the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale.
The aim of the Year of the Nurse is to celebrate the work of nurses, highlight the challenging conditions in which they work, and to advocate for continued investment in the field of nursing.
Florence Nightingale is considered the founder of modern nursing, and her legacy made the 200th anniversary of her birth the perfect time to recognize nurses, noted WHO, as the organization looks back at the last two centuries in nursing and how far the field has come.
Dr. Timothy Gaspar, professor and dean at Cleveland State University’s School of Nursing, emphasized the importance of Nightingale’s legacy and impact on how nurses approach healthcare.
“She introduced the issue of community health nursing,” Gaspar said. “If something happened and you had a need, the public health nurse is on call to serve somebody. Public health nurses were primary care deliverers in many counties and rural areas.”
“The kind of work they do is critical to the life and safety of whoever comes through that door,” Gaspar said.
Gaspar noted the nature of nursing goes far beyond medical treatment, all thanks to Nightingale and the way she revolutionized her field.
“You make a really significant impact,” he said. “Not just physically, but emotionally. Nurses care for people in all situations. Nurses help people through their most difficult times.”
Nurses and midwives make up almost half of the global health workforce, but despite their large number we are still experiencing a global shortage of nurses according to the World Health Organization.
By WHO’s estimate, the world will need another 9 million nurses by 2030 to achieve universal health coverage.
Regan Appelgate, senior nursing student at Cleveland State and president of the Multicultural Association of Nursing Students, MANS, said she feels that the Year of the Nurse is not all just about celebration, but also improving the nursing profession and examining how nurses feel within the profession.
“For a long time we’ve been recognized,” said Appelgate, 23. “However, I think in that dialogue we focus on how great nurses are, but we fail to ask them how they feel about their job. I think that there’s a lot of things that should be addressed in nursing that could make it a better profession.”
Even with its imperfections, Appelgate said she still loves nursing because it gives her the opportunity to combine her knack for sciences and people skills to make a positive difference in people’s lives.
“I want to have an impact,” she explained. “I wanted to be part of something more than just going to a cubicle from nine to five.”
Nightingale’s theories on nursing, including how the environment around a patient can affect their health, have been a part of Appelgate’s education as a nursing student, and she believes — if Florence Nightingale could be here today — she would still see room for improvement in a field that has already come so far during the last 200 years.
“I think about what Florence Nightingale would think of what she would see today,” she said. “There would definitely be things she would want to change. Those are the things we want to focus on in the Year of the Nurse, like taking care of our nurses. How can we make nursing even better for nurses?”
From celebrating nurses to honoring Nightingale’s legacy by taking better care of the people who take care of communities, the Year of the Nurse is about giving thanks while looking toward the future of the profession.
“Their legacy lives on through us,” Gaspar said. “Without nurses, many of us would be gone and so would their legacy.”