Blog by Dr. Ilham Al-Dakheel
Well before the world experienced the magnitude of the novel coronavirus, the World Health Organization (WHO) had declared 2020 the Year of the Nurse to mark the bicentenary of the birth of the founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale, and to recognize the critical contribution of these health care workers. Little did anyone realize at the time just how appropriate that designation would be. The risks and sacrifices nurses take on a daily basis have been magnified by this global pandemic.
Further, amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, it is important that we not only thank our 27 million nurses globally for their selfless service, but also find ways to empower them with the resources and training needed to continue caring for patients and saving lives.
According to the WHO, the world needs 18 million more health workers to achieve and sustain its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) target of providing universal health coverage by 2030. Approximately a third of that shortfall – 6 million health care workers – are nurses. To address the shortage by 2030, the total number of nurse graduates worldwide would need to increase by 8% per year on average, alongside an improved capacity to employ and retain these graduates.
A report of the UN High Level Commission on Health Employment and Economic Growth concluded that investments in education and job creation in the health and social sectors result in a triple return of improved health outcomes, global health security and inclusive economic growth.
Part of investing in nurse education should be around leveraging new digital health technologies and innovations. As the speed of digital transformation is much faster than earlier technological revolutions, urgent action is needed to prepare the global workforce for a digital future, including our nurses and health care workers. In the UK, research has shown within 20 years, 90% of all jobs in the National Health Service (NHS) will require some element of digital skills. For example, technology such as virtual reality can allow nurses to train in simulated, riskless environments and Artificial Intelligence (AI) can help them efficiently interpret vitals and labs on the job.
Like within many other sectors, the onset of COVID-19 has accelerated the pace of digitalization in health care. More people are now turning to telehealth to access routine medical care in efforts to avoid exposure to COVID-19 in doctors’ offices and hospital settings. Moreover, digitalization has advanced efforts to mitigate COVID-19 through things like contact tracing and the implementation of AI in hospitals to screen visitors for fevers and treat infected patients. Researchers are even in the process of developing an AI device intended to analyze cough sounds to assess the potential spread of viral respiratory diseases such as COVID-19.
Post-pandemic, technology will not only continue to play an increased role in the practice of nursing, but also in the education of future health care workers. While no amount of words can describe our appreciation for nurses, we can and should support them now more than ever by investing in their education and embracing technological innovations that have the potential to both improve their jobs and patient outcomes.
Dr. Ilham Al-Dakheel is Chair of the Future of Work & Education Taskforce at B20 Saudi Arabia and CEO of Dur Alkuttab.