industry & reform nursing profession through COVID , not only in the primary healthcare setting in keeping people safe at homes , in hospitals , and in aged care facilities , but particularly we ’ ve seen the nursing leadership with the vaccination rollout .
Nursing has always been key in national immunisation rollouts within the country anyway , and nursing ’ s response to all the evolving barriers and the testing clinics , and to be part of all those clinics , has been profound .
I would say that if the nursing profession wasn ’ t here , or didn ’ t step up and didn ’ t continue to go to work when we were all scared and uncertain , that we would ’ ve had an extraordinarily different outcome in Australia .
And I think in some ways , that ’ s been at the cost to our own profession .
What role have nurses played rolling out the vaccinations for COVID-19 , and how are they going to help during the upcoming winter vaccinations ? I ’ m the CEO of the Australian College of Nursing . We were very fortunate last year to win the tender from the government to actually develop the vaccination training , and it ’ s the first time that a nursing organisation has done that .
We had a large consultation group with all professionals , but we developed the training for nurses , midwives , pharmacists , doctors , paramedics , Aboriginal health workers : anybody who was likely to vaccinate needed to do the mandatory government training . That gave us great insight obviously into nursing leading the way and developing and educating .
We also saw thousands of nurses through the Australian College of Nursing undertake formal studies as nurse immunisers . It was a really poignant example for me of how nurses step up and step in to do their civic duty . It says everything about the essence of not only what a nurse does , but who a nurse is . Someone who ’ s courageous , and strong , and wants to be there to help people during vulnerable times .
We ’ ve now trained hundreds of thousands of people . But certainly in those early days , when the majority of the clinicians that we trained were nurses , they stepped up in the tens of thousands . And really , the safety of the nation could not have occurred from the most remote areas of Australia , to the busy clinics and vaccination hubs in the cities , without that contribution .
That did mean nurses left their jobs in other sectors , so it was a popup health system . It did provide challenges , and I had people calling me , from doctors to governments , saying , ‘ We need nurses to go back to primary care ’ or to ICU . But nurses do have the right to choose where they want to work , and how they want to help deliver healthcare in Australia .
There ’ s over 400,000 nurses in Australia and there ’ s 23,000 GPs . So even the pharmacy model or the primary healthcare network model could not have vaccinated the country without all of those facilities employing nurses and nurse practitioners , as well as governments and councils employing dozens of nurses to deliver the vaccine .
I think nurses are very well positioned . We ’ re still seeing great numbers of nurses wanting to do the nurse immuniser qualification to not only vaccinate against COVID , but there ’ ll be the flu shots coming , there ’ ll be all of the other standard vaccinations for preventative health that the country delivers .
Then the other role I ’ ve seen when we look at nursing leadership is running the health system : the executive directors of nursing and midwifery , the directors , the NUMs , the managers , the educators , the CNCs . The clinicians themselves , who are in every interface where people need care . In the universities , in the prisons , in the schools . It really is quite phenomenal when you think about our profession . We are the largest profession in the country , not just the largest health profession .
I had that conversation with the minister and I mentioned that . And he said , ‘ What about teaching ?’ There might be about 230,000 teachers , another female dominated profession , but nursing dominates this country and has kept this country healthy and as safe as it can be .
I ’ d go as far as to say there is no healthcare system without nurses . If every nurse stopped working tomorrow , the system couldn ’ t function . And we did see that through COVID . Wards and units were closed in some of the largest tertiary hospitals in the country because of the furloughing , and nurses contracting COVID , and it did cripple some of our systems .
What are some of the obstacles and challenges that nurses face in society ? I ’ m going to go to gender inequality here . Certainly , pay disparity continues to be a haunting legacy from the past . Nursing is one of the oldest professions , and certainly
“ Different jurisdictions are treating nurses differently .
for women , where they had no other opportunities to be employed , nursing was an opportunity years ago . And many great nurses took that up , to be able to travel or to work . But I think the byproduct of being a female dominated profession is that we do way too much . We give way too much . We ’ ve been undervalued , underrepresented , and underappreciated . And the pay disparity still is a legacy from the past that should be addressed .
Another shameful legacy of our culture in our society is occupational violence . When nurses experience more violence than prison guards and police officers , that really also mimics the toxic tolerance of domestic and family violence . And then that spills over .
Nurses will experience occupational violence . There ’ s nurses in relationships that have occupational violence . So I would really like to see the same resources that have gone into battling the pandemic go into changing the culture of tolerance of violence in society .
Another significant obstacle and challenge that we ’ re still facing today , which is a last century legacy , is nurses are still limited and not able to work to their full scope of practice . That ’ s both as nurse practitioners and as registered nurses .
The only way Australia will be able to deliver the healthcare that Australians deserve is for nurses to be able to work to their full scope . And we have to stop tolerating and allowing it . We are regulated , we ’ re a profession in our own right , and we should decide what can do .
We shouldn ’ t have the resistance that we ’ ve seen by our colleagues in other professions inhibiting that . And even having access to MBS item numbers is a great example of how we ’ re disadvantaged in that way . And if nursing is disadvantaged , then communities are disadvantaged .
Do you feel that nurses have received the recognition they deserve from the government ? I think that this is a really interesting question . Because nursing is jurisdictional , the majority of nurses are employed through state and territory governments , and we don ’ t have just one government , or one health system .
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