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Nursing in times of crisis and building a resilient workforce – UC marks International Nurses Day

Emma Larouche

12 May 2022: International Nurses Day (IND) was celebrated today by the University of Canberra, with the Faculty of Health acknowledging the challenges of the profession at a special breakfast on campus.

Head of Discipline, Nursing, Professor Jenny Weller-Newton said nurses don’t always get full recognition of the knowledge and skills required for their roles.

“What really frustrates me is when people still see nurses as the doctor’s handmaid. Nurses need to have their own voice and for that voice to be heard,” she said.

This is despite the trailblazing work of Florence Nightingale in the 1800s, whose birthday, 12 May, is marked by IND each year.

Professor Weller-Newton described Nightingale as “the major founder of modern nursing”.

“She really wanted to improve both patient care, with attention to health promotion and disease prevention, and ensure a worthwhile and meaningful livelihood for women,” Professor Weller-Newton said.

“We have so much to thank Florence Nightingale for in terms of laying foundational principles for nursing.”

Today’s workforce has come up against a raft of challenges in recent years, both in Australia and abroad – the COVID-19 pandemic, bushfires, floods and global conflict.

“Those are incredibly stressful situations, but there is an element of incredible resilience in nurses,” Professor Weller-Newton said.

“Nurses bring compassion, care, the ability to organise and communicate with people.”

The current climate has meant nursing students have already experienced working in a crisis.

“Some students have spent two years doing their clinical placements during COVID, so for them, working in a pandemic is almost normal and they haven’t experienced what it’s like not to be in that environment,” Professor Weller-Newton said.

The University’s Bachelor of Nursing program includes a focus on health and wellbeing, with strategies to switch off and seek help from support services dedicated to nurses and midwives, Professor Weller-Newton said.

“It’s an important part of ensuring the longevity of nurses, so they don’t experience burnout and the associated stress,” she said.

Nursing is consistently ranked as one of the most trusted professions in the annual Roy Morgan Image of Professions survey.

“It’s a nurse who gets to know the individual and often picks up on cues or receives information that normally isn’t shared with one of the other health professionals,” Professor Weller-Newton said.

She added that this is enhanced by the University’s clinical placements, with student nurses having the time to sit and listen to patients, helping in enhancing care.