The importance of the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife

In 2019, the executive board of the World Health Organization (WHO) proposed that the year 2020 be designated the “Year of the Nurse and the Midwife” in honor of the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth.

The designation, which was approved by the World Health Assembly, was made to bring awareness of the importance of nurses and midwives in providing healthcare to populations across the globe. 

Why is this important? The reasons are many but begin with worldwide shortages in nurses and midwives. The WHO recognizes the important work of both nurses and midwives in improving healthcare and estimates that the world needs nine million more nurses and midwives if it is to achieve universal health coverage by 2030.

We are very excited by the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife because it provides an opportunity to explicate the role of both nurses and midwives in improving health. In the United States, we have significant health challenges. In many cases, these are getting worse, not better.

The maternal mortality rate has risen from seven per 100,000 in 1987 to a current rate estimated at 26 per 100,000. The numbers are even worse for women of color, who die from pregnancy-related illness at three times the rate of white women. Mental health issues plague our country as well. Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States; more than 130 people die each day from opioid-related illness.

Lack of access to primary healthcare, maternal healthcare and psychiatric mental healthcare persists throughout the U.S., particularly in rural areas.

Improving the health of our population begins with an increase in healthcare providers who are well prepared to provide culturally competent primary preventive care as well as the ongoing care of chronic disease. Accessible and high-quality maternity care is critical The Centers for Disease Control reports that nearly half of maternal mortality deaths are preventable. Changing this picture will take a team of healthcare providers and that team must include nurses and midwives. A recent study from Johns Hopkins University found that more 250,000 Americans die every year because of healthcare mistakes.

While the bad news is ample, the good news is that we can improve. At Frontier Nursing University we are educating nurses and midwives with the primary goal of assuring that they are well prepared to serve in rural and underserved areas. We must create a diverse healthcare workforce, a workforce that can competently serve persons and families from many different cultures that are representative of our United States.

The designation of 2020 as the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife provides an opportunity for us to showcase the role of nurses and midwives. We must educate others about the scope of practice and qualifications of nurse practitioners and nurse-midwives. We need to assure that nurses and midwives are at the tables when decisions about healthcare are being made. We know that we must change and improve the current healthcare system. We must be sure that everyone has access to healthcare.

-Dr. Susan Stone is president of Frontier Nursing University.