2020: The Year of the Nurse


By Anita Wong, contributor

Two hundred years after the birth of Florence Nightingale, the world is celebrating the incredible contributions of nurses to our health and well-being. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared 2020 the Year of the Nurse and Midwife, with exciting initiatives spotlighting how nursing professionals improve global health and keep us safe.

According to WHO, there are 20.7 million nurses and midwives worldwide, comprising almost half of a total health workforce of 43.5 million. By 2030, there's expected to be a critical shortage of nurses, impacting their ability to deliver adequate healthcare.

The Year of the Nurse is designed to raise awareness of the essential work of nurses around the world and some of the challenges they face.

The evolution of nursing 

In the 1950s, WHO realized that nurses could play an expanded role in global health to help ease the pressure on physicians. By the end of the decade, the organization had placed 163 nurses in 45 countries. These staff nurses trained local nurses in delivering programs related to malaria, tuberculosis, sexually transmitted diseases, women's and children's health, and basic hygiene and sanitation.

Their work had a significant impact, and by the 1970s, the role of nurses was changing. Infectious diseases were mostly under control, and populations experienced a greater life expectancy. Nurses began concentrating efforts on primary healthcare and preventive care. Soon, they were leading many areas of public health, including:

  • Caring for patients with HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases
  • Providing vaccinations
  • Advising on family planning and use of contraception
  • Offering information on nutrition and hygiene
  • Delivering home-based care to vulnerable populations
  • Providing guidance on maternal and children's health
  • Promoting occupational health
  • Advising on mental health, stress management and group therapy
  • Assisting with emergency and disaster response

Today, nurses remain a crucial part of the healthcare workforce.

What does the future hold? 

In the coming years, nurses have an even larger leadership role to play as health practitioners manage new issues:

  • Aging populations with increased health needs
  • Emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases
  • Antibiotic-resistant diseases
  • Increasing urbanization and its impact on lifestyle, diet and the environment

WHO is also working toward larger goals of sustainable development to improve overall health and well-being, universal health coverage so every person can have affordable medical care and global health security to ensure our collective public health.

One of the biggest challenges is a shortage of nurses and a lack of training infrastructure. WHO estimates an additional 9 million nurses and midwives are needed by 2030, with the largest need in Africa and Southeast Asia.

Comprehensive report on world nursing

To raise awareness of the contributions of nurses and to develop policies to support their work, WHO is releasing a report called State of the World's Nursing as part of 2020: Year of the Nurse.

This report will paint a detailed picture of the size of the nursing workforce globally and address the challenges of reaching WHO's goals related to healthcare.

Key dates during the Year of the Nurse 

Here are upcoming events to watch for as the world celebrates 2020: The Year of the Nurse:

  • April 7: WHO releases its report, State of the World's Nursing, on World Health Day
  • May 12: International Nurses Day honors the work of nurses
  • May 18-23: Nursing leaders and champions speak to the 73rd World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland

Spotlight on nursing in the United States 

The American Nurses Association and other organizations are recognizing 2020: The Year of the Nurse by expanding National Nurses Week into a month-long celebration in May, acknowledging the valuable efforts of more than 3 million registered nurses in the United States.

As well, a National Academy of Medicine committee is examining how nurses can help meet the priorities of the American healthcare system, with recommendations forthcoming in the report, The Future of Nursing 2020-2030.

Nursing job opportunities 

Whether you work in a permanent RN position or as a travel nurse, you play a vital role in the well-being of diverse populations. 2020: The Year of the Nurse is raising awareness of the nursing profession's efforts on the frontlines of public health, both in the United States and around the globe.

If you're interested in using your nursing expertise to care for patients across the country, find out which states have the most need for RNs. You can also explore current travel opportunities to see where your skills are in demand.



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