Back in 2009 Julianne used this column to raise the issue of the importance of language ‘in the way we describe ourselves as nurses and midwives, what it is that we do and what that means to both ourselves and others’. Her assertion was that when attempting to define nursing or midwifery, or the role of a nurse or a midwife, the definition never seems to adequately address all that a nurse or midwife is, or does. We are not ‘just a nurse’ or ‘just a midwife’.
At a recent meeting of the Coalition of National Nursing and Midwifery Organisations (CoNNMO), guest speaker Professor Sanchia Aranda told a beautiful story of a nurse caring for a man in a debilitated state, to illustrate her point that nurses and midwives so often tone down the impact they have on people’s lives. She said, “We downplay what we do for people and what it means to them”. The nurse in this story restored the man’s humanity through a simple act - an act so simple and second nature to her that the nurse later struggled to recall the incident when he thanked her profusely for what she’d done for him and what it had meant to him.
We were reminded by Sanchia of past writings by Australian and international authors on the subject of nurses and midwives not being clear and articulate about their contribution to health care. These included Australian authors such as Professor Bev Taylor (1994) who highlighted the seeming ‘ordinariness’ of nursing displayed “when nursing knowledge and skills are shared in human ways…”; and, Professors Judy Parker and Glenn Gardner (1994)who used an analysis of patient notes to demonstrate that nurses tend to take for granted many of the practises of their everyday working lives. Judy and Glenn argued that “taken-for-granted practices are by definition invisible”.
This theme of invisibility is highlighted by the international authors Sanchia referred to - North American journalists Suzanne Gordon and Bernice Buresh (2006). These writers had first-hand experience of the stunning positive difference nursing practice made to the lives of those for whom they cared. They were, therefore, appalled by the indifference shown by media to nursing, and more especially, to the seeming lack of awareness of nurses about the significance of their day to day actions.
The essential take-home messages Sanchia gave the nurses and midwives present at the CoNNMO meeting which we wish to share with members, were to:
- avoid using the word ‘just’ when talking about their roles
- be clear and articulate about what they do, and,
- be bold in speaking out about what they do.
As Sanchia quite rightly pointed out, much of our unique contribution to health and aged care goes unrecognised as such, by nurses and midwives themselves. We promote health, care for women during pregnancy and birth, and interact with people at critical/crisis points in their lives using knowledge and skills to: prevent illness/injury, restore people to optimal health, provide palliative care for those with life-limiting illnesses or those who are dying. Our evidence-based interventions and therapeutic actions make a difference to people’s health and well-being, often to the point of preventing misadventure or even saving their lives. This is happening every day, all around the country! And, it’s because of this that nurses and midwives so often take their actions for granted and downplay what these actions – the simple and/or the complex - have meant to the people they’ve given care to.
Each year the Roy Morgan Image of Professions Survey consistently rates nurses and midwives as the most ethical and honest of all professions. While the community clearly has high regard for the nursing and midwifery professions, our invisibility in the media and often scant regard shown by governments in funding decisions, would suggest there is little understanding of what our professions actually do.
Raising the visibility of our professions is largely in our hands. Regardless of the setting of our practice we, as nurses and midwives, must use our individual or collective voice to emphasise the importance of our role to the community, other health professionals and ourselves.
For more information about the work of the Federal Office Professional Team go to the ‘Professional’ and ‘Media and Publications’ sections of the ANMF website.
Julianne Bryce, Elizabeth Foley and Julie Reeves
Federal Professional Officers
Buresh, B., and Gordon, S., 2006. From Silence to Voice: What nurses know and must communicate to the public. Canadian Nurses Association. Ottawa
Parker, J., and Gardner, G. E., 1992. The silence and the silencing of the nurse’s voice: a reading of patient notes. Australian Journal of Advanced Nursing. Vol 9 (2): pp.3-9.