Submitted by Adriana Farquharson, International Program Coordinator
Nurses account for more than half of all the world’s health workers. Unfortunately, there is an urgent shortage of nurses worldwide with 5.9 million more nurses still needed, and 90% of the shortages coming from low- and middle-income countries.
Nurses are at the forefront of fighting epidemics and pandemics, providing high quality and respectful treatment and care. They are often the first - and sometimes the only - health professional that people see, making the quality of their initial assessment, care and treatment extremely important. The COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of the vital role nurses play. Without nurses and other health workers, we will not overcome outbreaks, achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals or universal health coverage.
COVID-19 Brought the Mass Traumatization of Nurses
In January 2021, the International Council of Nurses (ICN) drew the world’s attention to evidence showing mental health issues and physiological impacts on nurses as a result of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. ICN called this phenomenon the “mass traumatization” of the global nursing workforce and called on governments to act now to support nurses and address these issues. The COVID effect is real and risks damaging the nursing profession for generations to come. The causes of mental health distress are complex and varied and include inadequate PPE, fear of spreading the virus, high workloads, increase in violence and discrimination against nurses, post-traumatic stress symptoms, etc.
1 out of 6 of the world’s nurses are expected to retire in the next 10 years, meaning that 4.7 million new nurses will have to be educated. COVID-19 effects, added to the current shortages and ageing of the nursing workforce, could lead to a potential shortfall of up to 13 million nurses by 2030. The longer-term impacts of COVID-19 including PTSD and long COVID are currently unknown but could be extremely significant.
Volunteer Nurses & Esperança
Over the last 51 years, 101 volunteer nurses have traveled with Esperança’s surgical program to Ecuador, Nicaragua, Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil. They play vital roles working in a variety of specialties including pediatrics, general, orthopedics, gynecology, hand, ophthalmology, and more. Whether it’s in post-operative care, translating for patients, or assisting in the operating room they are instrumental in our trips. The heart of this work lies within Esperança’s in-country nurses who are skilled and resourceful all year long to recruit surgical patients, coordinate logistics, and finally are in action during our trips. Honoring these individuals and acknowledging their ambitious character ignites Esperança’s surgical program to continue the work cautiously and safely in the upcoming years.
“First, we must acknowledge that nurses are on the front line of healthcare delivery. They are the interface between the patient and whatever healthcare system supports their work. In short, I believe that while the politics and economics that drive healthcare will inevitably change, nursing - that is, the essential interface between the nurse and the patient - will remain relatively constant as we move into the future. One human being caring for another - this is the essence of nursing. The systems and politics that support this relationship may be radically divergent, and may radically change, but in end, the primary connection between the patient and the care provider will, as I see it, remain essentially unchanged.” -Richard Leyh, CRNA Esperança Surgical Volunteer