The International Council of Nurses: leadership in the world of nursing

Section: Editorial

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How to cite: Kennedy A. The International Council of Nurses: leadership in the world of nursing. Metas Enferm feb 2020; 23(1):3-6. Doi:


Annette Kennedy


Presidenta del CIE

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It was an honour for me to speak about the International Council of Nurses (ICN) in November 2019 at the María Egea Chair for Nursing Research conference at the University of Navarra.

Maria Egea was a vibrant nurse who died at a young age from osteosarcoma. Her family has honoured her memory by funding the creation of a nursing research chair in her name. By all accounts, Maria was a wonderful inspiring nurse who was full of joy and love for others. The work done in her name at the university is helping to create a new generation of nurse researchers who promote research and education that improve patient care.

Nursing is an evidence-based profession that requires a sound knowledge base and a strong commitment to putting appropriate care into practice. That takes determination from practitioners, educationalists and nurse leaders in the face of circumstances that can often be challenging and difficult.

Leadership is the key, because without strong, well-informed leaders our profession would inevitably drift away from its principles and patient care would suffer.

And this year is an important one for nursing and nurse leaders: the World Health Organization’s (WHO) designation of 2020 as the Year of the Nurse and Midwife gives us an opportunity to raise the profile of nursing and inform the public about the great work we are doing, often behind the scenes with little publicity and even less recognition or reward. ICN wants 2020 to be a success, but we also want it to be a catalyst for permanent change in the way nursing is seen by the public and politicians so that its true value to societies around the world is recognised.

ICN has been leading nursing since it was formed in 1899 by a group of women who recognised that creating an organisation representing nurses around the world would strengthen the profession and protect its integrity. From its inception, ICN has grown into the global nursing leadership organisation that it is today, with more than 130 National Nursing Association (NNA) member countries representing more than 20 million nurses in every region of the planet.

The vision of those early pioneer nurses remains central to ICN in terms of our professional leadership, our influence on nursing regulation and our championing of the socio-economic wellbeing of nurses around the globe.

ICN’s strategic goals, which we strive to achieve through cooperation with WHO, the United Nations, the Commission on Noncommunicable Disease, the International Labour Organisation, the World Bank and others, are all about the international impact of the profession, empowering our NNA members, providing strategic leadership and maintaining and growing the ICN as the global nursing organisation.

ICN represents nurses at the highest level where global policy is made, ensuring that the nursing voice and nursing advice are heard, including at the annual World Health Assembly, where WHO’s policies and strategies are made.

Our guidance and position statements, which are based on best practice around the world, enable NNAs to influence their national health agendas and hold governments to account. And our prestigious leadership programmes, Leadership for Change and the Global Nursing Leadership Institute, are helping to create a new body of nurse leaders who can hold their own in government and international policymaking arenas, ensuring that nursing is at the table where the decisions are made.
2020 can be a momentous year for nursing: it marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of one of modern nursing’s leaders, Florence Nightingale, and will see the publication of the first WHO State of the World’s Nursing report, which will provide a unique insight into the nursing workforce globally that will be a benchmark to measure progress against over the next decade.

Make no mistake, the global nursing shortage, which is predicted to reach nine million nurses and midwives by the end of the decade, must be addressed urgently and radically. Governments must act now, and nurses can make a difference by putting pressure on them to make the right choices to grow the profession effectively.

Every nurse can get involved by showcasing the profession and helping to educate the public about the wonders nurses can do when they are adequately supported, well-staffed and properly remunerated.

Nurses need to talk about what they do and correct the misconception that doctors are the only ones who can save lives: nurses make up 50% of healthcare workforce and deliver 90% of hands-on care, and they provide services for those who are most in need in the remotest areas, where they are often the only health professional a patient sees.

Nursing care is cost-effective, efficient and highly appreciated by the patients who receive it. So, let’s make the legacy of 2020 a decade of unprecedented growth for the profession that will deliver the best healthcare possible for the people of the world, because investment in nursing equates to investment in health and economic growth for everyone.

The work done by the Maria Egea Chair for Nursing Research is a shining example of how to improve nursing care for people around the world by researching its principles and creating a new generation of nurse researchers who can take the profession forward. They and many nurses like them, will be the professions leaders into this new decade and beyond. What we need now is action from governments to ensure there are sufficient numbers of nurses to take that work forward so that WHO’s goal of Healthcare for All can finally become a reality.