A stark example of the entrenched barriers to nursing leadership was made evident to me on a trip to meet with partners from leading training institutions. We were to discuss ways we could collaboratively advance medicine, nursing, and midwifery professions. The subject of nursing came up and there was a unanimous commitment to ensure we invest in nursing education. However, as I looked around the table, I was struck by the realization that not a single person speaking was a nurse. The leadership was entirely male and all were physicians. I noted this out loud and was gratified that my colleagues seemed equally disconcerted by the acknowledgment. When one dean finally spoke, he strongly asserted his commitment to ensure nurses and midwives would be better represented and involved in decision making processes at his institution. Later, I learned that the dean had kept his word. He ensured his nursing and midwifery colleagues joined critical meetings, creating space for them at the table so that they could share their experiences and expertise.
This is just one example of the myriad of barriers that nurses and midwives face that hinder them from having a voice in the healthcare space and rising to leadership roles. At the Women Deliver Conference this month, Johnson & Johnson, IntraHealth International, and Nursing Now released Investing in the Power of Nurse Leadership: What Will It Take? The report explores the barriers to nurse leadership, some of which also contribute to the projected shortage of 18 million health workers by 2030. These barriers include gender stereotypes and discrimination, inadequate professional growth opportunities, limited decision-making ability, and poor workplace safety.
By the very nature of their profession, nurses are inherently leaders in healthcare delivery. They are often the only care providers available to help recognize changes in patient’s clinical status, carry out treatment plans, and support communication across the healthcare team and with families. Nurse voices are essential. They bring critical perspective on the complexity of care delivery and a better understanding of the social determinants of health. We must continue to empower them in order to decrease the gaps in care and bridge the leadership gender gap.
Investing in nursing is also an economic investment. According to the Investing in the Power of Nurse Leadership report, globally, women’s labor, roughly half of which is unpaid, contributes $3 trillion to health. This unpaid labor stifles women’s economic empowerment and costs our global economy. The data speaks for itself. If women are able to participate in the labor force in the same way as men, there would be an estimated $28 trillion increase in global GDP by 2025. We have a global responsibility, for everyone’s wellbeing, to advocate for policies that provide a conducive working environment for women in the profession and to ensure discrimination or exclusion from decision-making because of gender or child-bearing status does not occur.
Nurses are crucial to providing the essential human-centered response that is fundamental to healthcare. Historically, their vital role has been downplayed and their voices disregarded. It has been to the detriment of all. In the wake of this nursing leadership report, and as we head into the International Council of Nurses 2019 Congress, it is my hope that we will collectively galvanize to invest in nurses and advance their leadership in the health workforce. It’s time to shine the spotlight on nurses so we can see them, hear them, and learn from them as they lead us towards a future where everyone has access to high-quality care.
*Photo Credit: Seed Global Health
**This post was originally published on the Frontline Health Worker’s Coalition blog.
Dr. Vanessa Kerry is the co-founder and CEO of Seed Global Health.