I previously posted on this blog in anticipation of attending my first international nursing meeting—the 2017 International Council of Nurses Congress in Barcelona—and wrote about it later in a joint post with AJN‘s editor-in-chief Shawn Kennedy. There will also be a full report in the August issue of AJN.
Based on subsequent reflection, here are some lasting takeaways:
International health is an American nursing problem.
“Shamian asked what American nurses do for their fellow nurses around the world.”
There was a lot I didn’t know about global health. I was thankful that I’d taken some time to study a few key concepts, especially the sustainable development goals (SDGs).
In the opening session, ICN president Judith Shamian charged all nurses to take seats at policy tables and draw upon their expertise. Through her passion, I began to see a part I could play in policy making simply by keeping abreast of issues and sharpening my nursing voice.
From the plenary speech by former Secretary of U.S. Health and Human Services, Mary Wakefield, I began to see the necessity of grounding policy work with reliable, relevant evidence. And in our interview with Shamian, policy and evidence met collaboration as Shamian asked what American nurses do for their fellow nurses around the world.
Nurses outside of developed countries suffer, but it had never occurred to me that I might have an opportunity to help them. ICN’s International Nurses Day publication highlights each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, alongside case studies of real nurses whose work contributes directly to each goal. One nurse shared his attempts to alert world health leaders to lack of food and water in his Syrian village, which was under attack. No one answered him until he sent photos of starving children to an American media outlet. But by the time help came, many of his patients had already died.
I began to consider my possible role in changing the arc of stories such as this through the use of policy, evidence, and collaboration.
Staffing problems are pretty universal, and there are many ways to address them.
“I have always struggled with the black-and-white nature of ratios . . . “
This topic, a perennial discussion point for American nurses, is a global one, and sessions confirmed that the science of safe staffing involves a lot more than just ratio-based care. Linda Aiken showcased her 20 years of evidence on the topic. With graph after graph, she showed consistent evidence attributing unsafe staffing to poor patient outcomes. Calling for action, Aiken challenged the audience to print her slides and bring them to managers, leaders, politicians.
I have always struggled with the black-and-white nature of ratios, believing that nurses are best experts within fluid acuity models. So I appreciated Jean White, the chief nursing officer of Wales, who in speaking of her recent victory pushing through nurse staffing legislation, led with the statement, “You will not find ratios on the cover of the Act.” She went on to describe a patient-centric, informatics-heavy, nurse-driven staffing plan that put the power of staffing with the nurses at the bedside. Both presenters received rousing audience responses.
Our direst need is in translating this evidence into public knowledge and creating a system that gets more and more transparent. If we are always ‘staff’ arguing about ‘staffing,’ why will anyone but our labor unions and professional ranks pay attention?
Social media mastery (AKA Twitter) is the key.
“Can we intentionally connect at the global level over these platforms that we so carelessly consume each day?”
Now that I’m home, social media as a means for developing a stronger nursing voice keeps coming to mind, especially when I think about the Syrian nurse’s story. What might have happened to his patients had he been able to reach out to nurses in America via Twitter to help him escalate his call for help? Can we intentionally connect at the global level over these platforms that we so carelessly consume each day? How far could we go in supporting our international colleagues and improving global health?
Having a blue ‘Prensa’ pass all week was a new experience, and as I talked to non-nurse press members, I became keenly aware of the unique power that I possessed in my dual role. I wondered how much more powerful we’d be as a profession if we linked journalism with nursing on a consistent basis.
If the ICN taught me anything, it is to pick something you’re passionate about and just start getting to work.