To commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, the World Health Organization (WHO) designated 2020 the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife. The year turned out quite differently than expected, due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But in recognition of the contributions made by the healthcare force, the WHO extended the celebratory year by designating 2021 the International Year of Health and Care Workers “in appreciation and gratitude for their unwavering dedication in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.”
In a speech in late 2020, the WHO regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge, MD, promised nurses: “We will push back COVID-19 and I promise: we will celebrate you.” Unfortunately, Kluge was unable to keep his promise about pushing back COVID-19, as the pandemic spilled over into 2021 and raged throughout the year, even with the availability of a vaccine. Rather than being a year celebrating nurses, it continued as a year fraught with turmoil as the pandemic challenged the capacity of hospitals and intensive care units (ICUs) worldwide.
The pandemic seemingly far from being over, 2021 is ending with severe staffing shortages and hospitals in many regions — both in the US and abroad — bursting at the seams with COVID-19 patients, to say nothing of those needing care for other conditions.
The work and sacrifice of nurses and other healthcare professionals during the pandemic did not go unnoticed, as headlines often focused on the challenges workers were contending with. However, at the same time, the pandemic also put a glaring and unforgiving spotlight on the deficiencies and shortfalls of the healthcare system — both in preparedness for an emergency and in basic support of its nursing staff.