5 Ways Nurses Can Impact Global Health During a Pandemic

A group of medical professionals connecting over a web call.

-By Peter Johnson, BS ‘81

I have, up until the beginning of this year, served as the chief nursing and midwifery officer of Jhpiego, a non-governmental organization affiliated with Johns Hopkins University. For the past 15 years, my duties required extensive travel to countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Southern and Southeast Asia. My work has involved strengthening education, workforce capacity building, creating essential regulatory infrastructure and advising on policies supportive to the nursing and midwifery professions. Experience traveling to over 20 countries has taught me that support to global health is much less about what you do than who you have an opportunity to do it with. 

The year 2020 was an unprecedented time for nursing and the world at large. Named by WHO as The Year of the Nurse and the Midwife in honor of the 200th birthday of Florence Nightingale, the year ultimately became much more focused on the world’s collective efforts to manage a global pandemic. World Health Day on April 5, 2020, was dedicated to supporting the work of nurses and midwives and marked the release of the first-ever State of the World Nursing Report. The report, from all WHO member nations, called critical attention to the need to support nursing education, employment and leadership. 

The intersection between COVID-19 and the Year of the Nurse has led to both recognition of the critical role that nurses play in the health system and the impact that the pandemic has had on our professional and personal lives. Nursing colleagues around the world need support more now than ever. In the years to come, they will need the support and connection in a manner that is timelier, and more consistent than past travel has allowed.

The future, while looking much different, can also be much better — and I am therefore pleased to offer these recommendations on five ways nurses in our country can make a difference without traveling across the world. 

1. Leverage your own expertise.


Your experience is valuable whether it be as a specialist or advanced practice clinician, professional administrator, association member, educator, researcher, regulator, policy advocate or any of the wide-ranging roles that nurses hold in our health system. 

2. Leverage your past experiences.

The findings from the State of the World Nursing Report suggest that colleagues around the world face similar challenges and opportunities. Use what you have learned through your past mistakes and failures and share your innovations and recipes for success. Nurses working in low-income nations and fragile settings do not have the luxury of learning from mistakes from which others have already learned. Help colleagues capitalize on your hard-earned lessons and adapt what you have learned to their context.

3. Leverage your existing relationships.

If there are countries that you have traveled to, immediately reconnect and stay connected with those who you already know. Trust is an essential commodity in global health and past face-to-face collaboration will enhance your ability to provide ongoing remote support.

4. Be creative with technology.

The tools for online collaboration have never been better than they are today. The experience that we have gained using these tools to support distance learning, telehealth and telecollaboration in our work are all valuable tools that will work to support global development. 

5. Do not underestimate the ability of colleagues to meet you halfway.

Nurses around the world have adapted equally or more quickly than we have to the use of information technologies. Focus on the tools that work best for them. In many places, nurses have greater access to mobile tools like WhatsApp than they do to computers. 

When the pandemic put a sudden end to travel to the places that I have grown to love, I thought my career was over. Like most crises, however, there are silver linings and I quickly learned that connecting with the colleagues that I have grown to love was easier now than ever. While I look forward to the day that I can safely travel, the work remains as important and possible as ever. 

Published April 2, 2021