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  • Lisa Jevens

Global Panel Shapes the Future of Midwifery

Improving global health care is daunting, especially given the ever-increasing complexities and challenges facing providers worldwide. The need has never been greater for health professionals from every discipline to collectively identify and prioritize common issues, and work to address them.

According to Cathy Catrambone, PhD, RN, FAAN, associate professor at Rush University College of Nursing, the world’s 19.3 million nurses and midwives are uniquely positioned to spearhead such efforts, and the organization she leads is in the midst of an initiative giving nurses and midwives a unified voice and vision for the future.

Catrambone is the 2015-2017 president of the 135,000-member Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International (STTI), a global organization dedicated to advancing world health and celebrating nursing excellence. In 2014, STTI convened the Global Advisory Panel on the Future of Nursing & Midwifery, or GAPFON, to gather thoughts and record concerns on the state of health care as seen through the eyes of nurses or midwives, wherever they may practice.

During the past two years, Catrambone and her GAPFON colleagues have held high-level meetings on every continent except Antarctica, bringing together nurse leaders, government officials, and corporate stakeholders in health care from Asia and the Pacific Rim, the Caribbean, Latin and Central America, North America, the Middle East, Europe, and Africa.

Martha N. Hill, PhD, RN, FAAN, dean emerita and professor at Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, is the chair of GAPFON. Hill says the top issues raised in the meetings were not surprises, and there were some commonalities: maternal and child health, disaster preparedness and response, chronic disease management including AIDS and communicable disease outbreaks, the needs of aging populations, and nursing shortages.

“How do you ensure that the people who need care have access and it is sustainable?” Hill asks. “We heard that everywhere we went.”

Other issues were more region-specific. For example, in the Pacific Rim participants brought up natural disasters like tsunamis and earthquakes. In Central and South America participants shared about drug-related violence. In the Middle East, Africa, and Europe there were distressing concerns about displaced people and the effects of conflict.

Catrambone says the nurses and midwives she and Hill met around the world exceeded her expectations for their willingness to work together. “It was an amazing experience to witness the amount of consensus around the issues, and the shared determination and goodwill to move these agendas forward,” she says.

The heavy travel for the GAPFON initiative was a new experience for Catrambone, who has logged nearly 400,000 airline miles during her presidential term. Working with the highest caliber global leaders was no less impactful. Catrambone’s most memorable visit was to the royal residence of Princess Muna al-Hussein of Jordan, who has worked with the World Health Organization and other groups to address health issues. British by birth, Princess Muna is known for her support of nursing and nursing education in Jordan.

This July, the team will release a report of its findings, along with global and regional recommendations, at STTI’s 29th International Nursing Research Congress in Dublin, Ireland.

The goal of the report is nothing less than a paradigm shift — to elevate the perception and role of nurses and midwives, Hill says. “It is designed to demonstrate why nurses and midwives should have a voice in policymaking and a seat at the table when decisions are made, from the local to global level.”

Through this visionary work, Catrambone and Hill are both examples of how nurse leaders can make change in the world.

“Nurses and midwives spend more time with patients at the point of care than any other health discipline,” Catrambone adds. “We are uniquely positioned to exert our influence at the highest levels to improve the health of populations globally.”

Originally published in the Chicago Tribune special section Nursing in Action on May 30, 2017.

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