Despite the vital importance of nurses, their professional expertise and knowledge have not always been sought by those who need to hear them most. Nurses’ voices have frequently been both ignored and dismissed.
As nurses have professionalised and gained recognition as well-educated healthcare providers, capable of great autonomy of both thought and action, the dynamics of healthcare have changed.
Everyone must adapt to this new paradigm, including physicians, other healthcare providers, and indeed nurses themselves.
Throughout much of medical and nursing history, nurses were handmaidens to doctors, playing a subservient role in a patriarchal system that saw nurses as task-based non-professionals whose purpose was to answer to the orders of physicians.
In the 21st century, we are seeing an enormous change in the nature of the nurse-physician relationship. While some doctors may still view nurses as subservient, anecdotal reports show that the nurse-doctor relationship is evolving into something more akin to a partnership.
Nurses have a certain lens through which they view the delivery of patient care, and some physicians are open to more readily integrating the practice of medicine and nursing.
In many countries, Nurse Practitioners (NPs) are stepping up in terms of bridging the gaps of the healthcare system.
Specifically in the United States, an enormous shortage of primary care physicians has led to increasing demand for Nurse Practitioners and advanced practice Registered Nurses who can function autonomously and provide care for those in need, especially underserved rural and urban populations.
Legislative battles are being waged in various countries – including the US – in terms of NP autonomy, and recent gains for American NPs show that the momentum is growing for full autonomy of practice free of prohibitively expensive physician supervision.
Nurse Practitioners can help achieve the mission of the healthcare system to serve as many patients as possible with the highest quality care.
Nurses can use their individual and collective voices to push for legislative changes that expand nurse autonomy and increase the reach and influence of the profession. Every country has its particular struggles, and as the population continues to rapidly age, nurses will be vital to the care of those ageing citizens.
In order to be heard and seen, nurses can reach out to the media and become increasingly trusted sources of expert opinion and specialised knowledge. The public trusts nurses, and there’s no reason why nurses cannot leverage the media in order to expedite the agenda of improved public health and healthcare delivery.
Nurses generally make up a large portion of any country’s healthcare workforce; in the United States, they are certainly the largest branch of that workforce. If nurses are able to unite around common goals, their sheer numbers can bring about change when their voices are leveraged in a powerful way.
Nurses can use the media, relationships with physicians, collective political action, and face-to-face discussions as tools for engaging with others in important conversations.
Nursing is intrinsic to high-quality healthcare, and nurses can use their knowledge, skills, and collective vision to initiate and champion positive change.