The World Health Organization has designated 2020 as the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife. NZNO will be joining in to celebrate the contributions nurses and midwives make and to envision the even greater contributions we can make in the future.
As we reflect on the mahi of nurses and midwives, we take inspiration from the whakataukī: “Titiro whakamuri kōkiri whakamua – Look back and reflect so you can move forward.” In so doing we honour our ancestors and learn from past mistakes.
2020 also marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale. Florence is a hugely important figure in the development of our profession, but she left behind a mixed legacy.
Nurses, midwives and tohunga have been serving their communities and practising healing in Aotearoa for centuries; from long before when Florence was advising Colonial authorities in Aotearoa New Zealand about how to prevent the “inherent diseases” of the “savages” from leading to their extinction, as they were brought out of “barbarism” through “the inestimable blessings of Christian civilisation”.
In fact much of our nursing history has been marred by these sorts of conservative and racist views, some of which persist today.
Returning to the whakataukī with which we opened, here are just some of the notable figures and events in our history we can look back on:
- In 1901, thanks to the pioneering efforts of Grace Neill, Aotearoa New Zealand became the first country in the world to pass legislation recognising the qualifications and status of registered nurses. Recognition of registered midwives came three years later.
- In 1902 Ellen Dougherty of Palmerston North became the world’s first registered nurse.
- Akenehi Hei became the first Māori nurse and midwife to register under her own [Māori] name six years later in 1908. However, Māori trained nurses were providing care even before official registration began, following in the footsteps of Mereana Tangata (Mary Ann Leonard) who qualified in 1896.
- Founded in 1908, Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand is one of the world’s longest running nursing publications. Last year, Kai Tiaki became one of just 20 publications so far inducted into the Nursing Journal Hall of Fame at a ceremony in Reno, USA.
- Turning 111 years old this year, the New Zealand Nurses Organisation Tōpūtanga Tapuhi Kaitiaki o Aotearoa is proud to be one of the world’s first professional nursing associations.
Our indigenous and home-grown nurses and midwives have made an immeasurable contribution throughout the 20th and 21st centuries towards raising the health of all peoples in Aotearoa New Zealand. They’re now being joined by our internationally qualified nurses, too.
However, our health system today is under strain. Distressing health inequities persist and nurse and midwife shortages are predicted to grow. Historically our work has been undervalued because we are a female dominated profession. Thankfully an end is finally in sight, with the first Pay Equity settlements due this year. Entrenched pay disparities for those in Māori-led health care providers could also be closed at last, thanks to years of campaigning and a landmark claim lodged with the Waitangi Tribunal by Te Rūnanga o Aotearoa NZNO.
Nurses and midwives need to be properly deployed, valued and included in policy and decision-making. By the end of 2020, we hope to achieve greater investment in improving education, professional development, standards, regulation and employment conditions for nurses and midwives. Our goal is greater influence for nurses and midwives on health policy, more nurses and midwives in leadership positions, and more opportunities for development at all levels.
The needs of the 21st century also require innovative services that make better use of new technology. We need more community and marae-based services that are holistic and people-centred, as well as an increased focus on prevention and on undoing the harm caused by colonisation. These are all areas where we can play a leading role.
Finally, it is our hope that by the end of 2020, NZNO’s Strategy for Nursing 2018-2023 will be accepted across the health sector. This would signal a stronger commitment to a safer and more equitable future for all nurses and midwives in Aotearoa New Zealand.
“Me haere tahi tātou mō te hauora me te oranga o ngā iwi katoa o Aotearoa”, “Let us journey together for the health and wellbeing of the people of Aotearoa” (Rev Leo Te Kira 15 December 2005).