Nursing leadership: 2020 can be a showcase for nursing at its best

In the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife, should we take inspiration from the great nurses of the past such as Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole?

Mary Seacole and Florence Nightingale
Mary Seacole and Florence Nightingale

At first sight 2020 has a lot to offer: the government has promised to boost the number of nurses, fast track the visas of nurses from overseas and give more funds to the NHS.

The World Health Organization has designated 2020 the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife and it also marks 200 years since Florence Nightingale’s birth.

However, when it comes to nursing leadership, is looking back a good place to start when looking forward?  

Would today's nurses identify more with Mary Seacole than Florence Nightingale?

Miss Nightingale might have been an icon for her age – she was certainly queen of the audit – but is she a good example to follow today or was she even a great leader?

She was a privileged, upper class, educated woman who used her influence to establish a hierarchical system that allocated nurses a subservient place to other professions.

Perhaps a greater role model would be Mary Seacole, who faced disadvantage, misogyny and racism, but got on with the job and did her bit. I wonder which of these two great nurses from the past people would identify more with today?  

Leadership isn’t just about theories and models or whether bottom up is better than top down.

Nurses play a critical role in public health and health promotion

Nurses are not only at the heart of most healthcare teams, they are also at the heart of society. As such they play a critical role in public health and health promotion. Arguably, front-line nurses are the closest healthcare professional to the community.  

New ways of working and advanced practice roles mean that nurses may see children instead of GPs. Health visitors and school nurses can identify and prevent problems before they become obvious.  

We know hospitals are not good for children long term so local efforts to promote the well-being of children and their families to prevent ill health or disease are examples of leadership in the community at its best. 

Let’s unlock the potential of nurses in 2020.

Picture of Doreen CrawfordDoreen Crawford is consultant editor of Nursing Children and Young People, and nurse adviser with consultancy Crawford McKenzie