I’ve thought long and hard about what I wanted to put in this blog post. And why I genuinely believe the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) should rejoin the International Council of Nurses (ICN).
For the RCN, I am a member of the Greater Glasgow branch. I was a Scottish representative on the RCN’s Students’ Committee from January 2018 to December 2019, becoming chair in 2019. Now, I currently am a steering committee member on the RCN Nurses in Management and Leadership Forum and an RCN Newly Qualified Nurses Twitter curator.
Now, as with all nurses, I would consider myself a critical thinker, and I have done my research. I am not one to go with the tide. Quite often, I’m sure the opposite could be said of me. But, before I get into that, I want to explain a bit more about why I consider myself a global nurse.
I have always been conscious of global and social justice issues. My dad’s nickname for me as a young child was actually “eco-warrior”. I consistently reminded him we needed to be turning off light switches and recycling. However, I digress.
I first became aware of global nursing when I was chosen to be one of a group of nursing students from my university, Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU), to take part in an educational exchange trip with our international counterparts, California State University, Long Beach. I know, how awful, a summer in California. What I found so fascinating was not just the similarities we had as global nursing students, but the differences. And how much we had to learn from each other.
Fast forward to my fourth Honours year at university. I became even more interested in global nursing when I undertook my advanced modules in public and global health. For my global nursing assessment, my report focussed on the factors increasing the HIV prevalence rate among Zimbabwean sex workers. This report discussed the nursing and healthcare strategies involved in addressing this. What I found so fascinating was that in this “low-income country”, as defined by the World Bank, nurses were not only providing but leading interventions. These are solutions we could be replicating back here in the United Kingdom. We have so much to learn from them. Due to this, when applying for my first staff nurse role, I actively sought out a position, successfully gaining a post in infectious (communicable) diseases in May 2020.
Subsequently, I am now undertaking a distance-learning, part-time Master of Public Health at GCU while working as a staff nurse. I have an active interest in global, public, and sexual health, particularly in blood-borne viruses and health protection measures. And one day, I hope to work on global and public health policy as a nurse researcher and academic. Possibly even as a governmental advisor, who knows? Furthermore, wanting to become part of a wider, global nursing network, I was invited to become a member of Sigma Theta Tau International Nursing Honour Society’s first Scotland Chapter, Omega Xi. And I am now part of their Nightingale Challenge for novice nurse leaders.
Back to global health: “Global health” has become the popular term used when discussing health issues that transcend national boundaries. It is a field of study and practice, which seeks to understand and provide solutions to address the socio-economic, physical and behavioural factors that lead to global health inequities to achieve optimal health for all global citizens. Global health action can be either proactive or reactive, depending on the issue, and requires all nations and actors, including non-governmental organisations to share a common desire to address these using a transnational, multidisciplinary approach. We only need to look at the Covid-19 pandemic, which illustrates how much we have needed to pull together internationally.
So, that takes me back to my original argument as to why I think the RCN should rejoin the ICN. Now, I know the fees we, the RCN, paid the ICN were in excess of £400,000 and were a significant deciding factor in our reason behind withdrawing during our Annual General Meeting (AGM) vote. The ICN requires funding from its associate members to function. However, recent evidence has come to light, highlighting that no one member association will be required to pay more than ten per cent of the ICN’s annual income.
I genuinely believe the RCN’s withdrawal from the ICN caused them to reflect upon their governance and finance structure. That being said, I passionately believe “high” and “middle-high” income countries, as defined by the World Bank, which the UK falls under, have a moral and ethical duty and responsibility to support poorer nations. However, it goes far beyond that. It would be arrogant to assume that it’s just about what we would gain being associate members of the ICN. I think it’s more about what we can get from working with over 130 other countries with shared global nursing issues and goals.
Now, more than ever, our nursing goals are global: recruitment and retention of nursing staff; fair pay, terms and conditions for nurses; the advancement of our profession, and ultimately, achieving the best we possibly can for the communities we look after. I believe that no one country can tackle these as an island. And we only need to look at Brexit, an entirely different debate, to see how increasingly insular the UK risks becoming.
It is my understanding that the RCN’s November member consultation will be asking if RCN members believe the RCN should rejoin the ICN. Yet, it will also highlight the fact there are other global and European nursing associations we could be members of. However, none of these other associations has the ICN’s unique relationship with the World Health Organization (WHO). Why would we not want that? That relationship with the WHO is so special. The ICN has a seat at the World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of WHO. They were responsibly for lobbying for the WHO, both internationally and in Europe, to have a Chief Nursing Officer. And many people may not know, but they were co-authors of the WHO’s “State of the World’s Nursing Report – 2020, among many other things.
I believe that to have the most global influence; we need to be at the table. And for me, that is for us to be members of the ICN. And for us to have a seat at the World Health Assembly. So, whether this blog post encourages you to align your views with mine, I at least hope it gives you a more informed opinion and encourages you to do further research.
All the best,