What if Florence Nightingale would time travel to the present?

THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANISATION has designated 2020 as the “Year of the Nurse”, marking 200 years since the birth of Florence Nightingale.

So if Florence Nightingale would time travel to the present would she be impressed with the innovation and advancement in the Nursing profession?

To answer this, it is important to look at what’s changing in the nursing profession in the near future and what is the status quo?

  • Nurses will be increasingly tapped to replace general practitioners in treating patients with diabetes and other chronic conditions that require lifestyle changes.
  • In countries as varied as India, Germany and Portugal nurses are still largely treated as doctors’ minions and may not even diagnose common ailments or prescribe medication.
  • Nursing has lost its luster, so most posts are hard to fill. In the next decade, the shortage of nurses will remain the biggest problem that national health systems all over the world will face. By 2030 the world will be short of 7.6m nurses, which is a third of their number today.

Back in India, the Indian Nursing Council has framed draft rules permitting students from the arts and commerce streams to sign up for the BSc nursing course. The 4-year course till now was open to students who finished their 12th grade with a Science major.

The nursing profession is in need of an urgent makeover to make it attractive for younger people to be drawn-in while keeping trained nurses from leaving the profession.

So what may be the efforts required to turn this tide in favor of nursing?

  • Countries will focus more on recruiting nurses locally, rather than luring them from abroad—often from poor places where health care is already crippled by nurse shortages
  • National media campaigns will aim to raise the profile of nursing by dispelling outdated views about what the job entails
  • more hospitals and other employers will set up professional-development and leadership programs for nurses
  • Technology will be roped in to make their work more manageable and reduce burnout. Algorithms, for example, will be used to map the optimal routes forward shifts.

At the same time, as diagnostic systems and surgical robots advance, nursing may be the only aspect of the health-care profession in which machines will not replace human beings. Even though nursing is shaped by medical science and technology, as it has been since Nightingale’s time, its healing powers remain rooted in empathy and a human touch.


This write-up is referenced to the  “Florence and the machine” article which appeared in the    Science and technology section of the print edition

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