Improve the status of nursing profession

Like elsewhere in the world, nurses are the driving force of the health care system especially in low and middle-income countries like Uganda. 

However, several factors like poor professional status of nursing are eroding the investment that has been made in this profession. Yet, we all know that investment in nursing is the way to go if we are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal III.

On  May 12, the world commemorated the International Nurses Day under the theme; Nurses: a voice to lead-investing in nursing and respecting rights to secure global health, focusing on the need to protect, support and invest in the nursing profession to strengthen health systems around the world’. The issue of professional status of nursing remains and needs to be addressed nationally and globally.

 Nursing is identified as a profession based on the criteria that a profession must have; a systematic body of knowledge that provides the framework for the profession’s practice, standardised formal higher education, commitment to providing a service that benefits individuals and the community, maintenance of a unique role that recognises autonomy, responsibility and accountability, control of practice responsibility of the profession through standards and a code of ethics, evidence based practice and commitment to members of the profession through professional organisations and activities. 

However, this is different for Uganda where nurses are still fighting for recognition of nursing as a profession, and we are starting to see a good number of nurses quitting this profession. 

The professional status of nursing directly affects the nursing image. The image of nursing is improving, however, it’s still poor compared to that in the first world countries. 

Even in the 21st Century, the nursing profession is still being viewed as a feminine profession and worse still, as a profession for failures. 

This has been associated with negative consequences like violence at work, low pay, burn-out, heavy workloads, and poor performance, among others.

Consequently, this poor nursing image affects the health care policy in terms of recruitment and allocation of resources. 

A recent case in-point for Uganda is for the huge salary remuneration disparities where the graduate nurses will be paid less compared to their counterparts like medical officers, dental surgeons and pharmacists of the same education level. 

Such salary disparities speak a lot about the perception of the nursing profession by the responsible ministries such as Ministry of Public Service, Ministry of Health, Health Service Commission and Ministry of Finance among others. 

This has led to recurrent strikes, demotivated teams on duty and exacerbated the problem of limited workforce as many nurses are leaving the profession and yet too few are joining the education institutions to become nurses. 

As part of improving the status and image of the nursing profession, we therefore recommend the Ministry of Public Service, Ministry of Health, Health Service Commission and Ministry of Finance among others to enhance and harmonize the salaries of the Nurses and Midwives with that of their counterparts at all levels. 

We also urge the responsible ministries to fasten the revision of the staffing norms at various health facilities across the country according to need and recruit more nurses and midwives. 

Lastly, we recommend the relevant ministries to fund and support specialized training in the nursing profession.  

Authored by Rebbecca Nakandi,  BSc Nurse working with Mulago National Referral Hospital and Lilian Nuwabaine Luyima, BSc Nurse & MSN-Midwife & Women’s’ Health Specialist.