Embracing a Global Perspective in Nursing

Published September 1, 2019

Nursing is the nation's largest health care profession, with more than 3.8 million registered nurses nationwide. - ACCN

Immigration, migration, air travel, internet, social media, cell phones – these and many other factors continue to make our world more interconnected than ever before. As national and physical geographical boundaries diminish in power to separate populations, other mountainous borders and barriers have emerged – economics, politics, culture, ideology, education – that present new challenges for quality of life and health.

Global health issues, such as infectious disease, global health security, chronic disease, and immunization, transcend national and international borders. They also tend to disproportionately affect vulnerable and underserved populations.

With this rapidly evolving health care environment and global population, health care professionals have a special responsibility – and a special ability – to transcend barriers to ensure individuals and communities receive the highest quality care, to work toward health equity, and to transform health care knowledge, education and delivery. Clinicians, researchers, educators and leaders must collaborate to achieve health equity for all people across the globe. And, as the largest portion of the health care workforce, nurses play an integral role in meeting global health challenges and must embrace a global perspective.

What is a global health perspective in nursing?

It is the understanding that health and wellness issues transcend geographical and national borders; it is cultural competence and consciousness – having empathy, respect, and understanding of diverse populations; it is the drive to work together toward health equity. This perspective shapes the ways in which research, education and practice are approached in nursing and applied to the real world, both locally and globally.

Whether in the classroom, community or clinic, nurses must embrace a global health perspective to competently function in today’s health care environment and to lead change. A global health perspective empowers nurses to advance knowledge and education, improve health care delivery, and shape policy on both national and international fronts.

Nurses, who spend the most one-on-one time with patients, are also poised to add a patient-centered perspective to efforts aimed at improving population health.

Stethoscope coiled around a globe.

Beyond working with increasingly diverse and global patient populations, nursing itself also looks more global than in generations past. Team-based care requires nurses to work effectively in interprofessional teams. And, as liaisons between patients and other providers, nurses’ ability to communicate and collaborate within and across disciplines and organizations is paramount to improving health globally. Gaining global health experiences through community work, medical missions and health initiatives aimed at addressing health disparities strengthen nurses and nursing students alike – it helps them to build understanding of various health systems, forge interprofessional (and international) relationships and improve cultural sensitivity.

Nurses are at the forefront of global health care. They provide individualized patient care, but they also educate, innovate and advocate for the health and well-being of whole communities, whether it is in an international setting or in their own backyard.

By thinking globally, nurses have the power to move mountains.