National Nursing Week 2016: Statement from Dr. Nancy Edwards

It’s National Nursing Week – and today, May 12, is Florence Nightingale’s birthday. Her incredible legacy includes the establishment of her nursing school at St. Thomas’s Hospital in London, England, in 1860, which laid the foundation for professional nursing. Nurses are as critical to the improvement of health care now as they were back then, and it’s exciting to consider how much the profession has grown over the last century and a half.

It is also exciting – and important – to consider the role of nurses in health research and, indeed, the valuable contributions of nursing research to population and public health in Canada and abroad.

My own career has taken me across Canada and around the world. My earliest research mentors were Dr. Doug Black in Baie Verte, Newfoundland, and Sister Hilary Lyons in Serabu, Sierra Leone. Both of them supported my early forays into community health research. They encouraged me to seek opportunities to build my research skills; fostered my interest in asking community health research questions that could inform practice, programs and policy; and taught me the importance of listening to the perspectives and wisdom of the community. Since then, there have been many additional sources of motivation, but the community voice is the true inspiration that has driven me to try and answer the questions that matter to people and their communities.

This type of relationship with communities may not be unique to nurses and nurse researchers, but it is an undeniable strength of the profession. Nurses work on the front-lines of care in a variety of settings. They are key health professionals, often providing the only day-to-day services available for those living in rural and remote communities. They witness, alongside patients and families, the structural factors that perpetuate health inequities and the experience of patients and families as they journey through the health care system. These perspectives provide the basis for important research questions in clinical, health services and population health domains.

I have had the pleasure of supervising graduate students completing PhDs in nursing and population health, and of supervising many postdoctoral fellows. Their research topics have covered a wide range of health issues – including indigenous and immigrant health, obesity prevention, tobacco control, physical activity among the elderly, maternal and child care, access to HIV/AIDS services, and asthma prevention – and it is very rewarding to know that their work is being used to strengthen health care practices and population health programs.

Nursing research capacities and strengths in Canada have grown exponentially over the past 30 years. We have a substantial number of leading nurse researchers in Canada and a generation of nurse scientists who are coming into their own. They are very much a part of the fabric of talented researchers in this country, leading research that is crucial to evidence-informed practices, programs and policies.

This year’s theme for National Nursing Week is “Nurses: With you every step of the way.” On behalf of CIHR, I would like to thank our nurses and nurse researchers for their dedication – for being with us every step – and for their contributions to health care and the health research enterprise in Canada.

Nancy Edwards, RN, PhD

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