Nursing's image has never been stronger. We've been lauded and applauded every day all over the world since the pandemic began for all the right reasons. This is truly the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife. Does this well-deserved acclaim mean that our voices will be heard and we'll find our proverbial seats at the table? You know the adage—if you aren't at the table, you're on the menu.
Currently, our strength and impact are apparent. The portrayal of courageous, fierce, innovative nurses fighting the COVID-19 battle and saving lives is powerful. The world couldn't get through the pandemic without nurses. Period. We go in when no one else will. We get it done.
It was distressing to read blogs from clinical nurses lamenting staffing and personal protective equipment challenges and feeling unvalued when the world is thinking the opposite. We own patient safety, quality, outcomes, and advocacy for individual patients and large populations, but does the public know what we do? I'm not so sure.
Suzanne Gordon and Bernice Buresh make the point in their book, From Silence to Voice: What Nurses Know and Must Communicate to the Public (Cornell University Press, 2013), that nursing's image of caring and respect isn't enough. Yes, caring is the foundation of our practice, but our professional role is also founded on education, clinical expertise, knowledge, and experience. The World Health Organization's recent State of the World's Nursing report lists a strategic objective as health policymaking. That's serious business and many steps from the image of nurses as “angels of mercy” portrayed on broadcast and social media.
No matter where you practice, your voice is needed. The fact is, we're still struggling to be heard. We're very good at talking to each other, among and within professional workplaces and organizations. Our national nursing organizations take political presence and nurses' influence seriously. Thoughtful press releases and letters are released. Is anyone reading them? There's no nurse on the White House Coronavirus Task Force. Nurses are denied media exposure, website pages, and participation in external activities by their workplaces. Read any health or health policy news article and most likely you won't see a quote from a nurse.
Our thought leaders and nursing legends are trying. It can't be a handful of us—it should be all of us. Admittedly, we may need new skills. Learn how to present your issues, listen to staff, tell your community what you do, talk to the media, write letters to the editor, get on boards, and represent our role as one that determines patient safety and quality. We can do this.
We don't need permission to have a voice, and it's critically important. In these days of endless information-sharing, people are now able to see more than ever how nurses make a difference. The time is right. Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm once said, “If they don't give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” Let's stay off the menu and pull up a folding chair if that's what it takes. Nursing voices must be heard at every level, and leadership advocacy is crucial. It feels like now or never...and it won't happen magically.