Towards more visible nurse leadership

International Nurses Day, the anniversary of Florence Nightingale's birth is celebrated around the world every 12 May. Since early 2020 nursing has been in the spotlight as COVID-19 hit the world and made people realise the importance of having a sufficient and appropriately trained healthcare workforce. It also highlighted the important role nurses play in health care settings across the world. While COVID-19 provided the profession with increased visibility, we also witnessed the loss of many nurses and other key workers due to COVID-19 deaths, stress and low morale compounded by a lack of personal protective equipment. We also saw examples of visible and non-visible nursing leadership.

I believe COVID-19 and its associated issues have made us reflect on our role and on our contribution to the profession and society. We have also learned more about how we are seen in society and have reflected more on how our role is recognised at policy and strategic level. Nurses were, of course, acting as a frontline practitioner in all countries across the globe, but their presence and visibility as nurse leaders varied and, in some cases, was very limited. For example, in the United Kingdom, the Chief Nurse of England was only rarely present at United Kingdom COVID-19 televised briefings and hardly ever interviewed by the mainstream media. 

My vision for the nursing profession is that nurses are visible as not only nurse leaders, but leaders of the healthcare system and beyond into leading health policy and that the role of nurses is recognised in each country at local, national and international level. It’s not that nurses are not performing these roles, we already are. But it is just that our role is often not visible and goes unrecognised. This is something I would like to see changed.

COVID-19 is not the first pandemic, and it is not going to be the last one. There may also be further waves of COVID-19, and we need to be able to learn from current and past experiences in order to develop effective and appropriate ways of supporting the individuals, families and communities that we serve. Now is the time when we as nurses and nurse leaders need to be more visible as leaders, and not only as nurses, to offer insight from our extensive practice-based experiences of providing person-centred care and quality improvement of organisational initiatives and to ensure that we influence policy as well as practice. We should develop and encourage leadership potential in our nursing students from the time of undergraduate nursing studies. We need to make our future leaders recognise the need of getting engaged in leadership opportunities at organisational, local, national and international level. We need to talk about our work and explain what we do so to help the public understand the role and work of nurses within the healthcare context.  These strategies will not only help make nurses and nursing leadership more visible, but will also help us attract and retain appropriate candidate for nursing progression.

*Header image copyright: Bruno Lavi - IND2021 photo contest winner

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Dr Parveen Ali

Senior Lecturer, Programme Lead: MMedSci Advanced Nursing Studies, Lead, Sheffield University Interpersonal Violence Research Group, Health Sciences School, Division of Nursing and Midwifery, The University of Sheffield