Canadians lead and learn at international gathering

July / August 2017   Comments

During a Canadian reception in Barcelona, Spain, CNA president Barb Shellian (left) presented ICN past president Judith Shamian with a framed letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Reflecting current events around the world, the 2017 International Council of Nurses congress focused onuniversal health, the Sustainable Development Goals and health human resources to explore the many ways in which nurses are at the forefront of transforming care.

The congress and meetings of the Council of National Nursing Association Representatives (CNR) were held in Barcelona, Spain, from May 25 to June 1. A highlight of the CNR meetings was a panel discussion, with CNA president Barb Shellian and other nurse leaders, on preparing for and caring for migrants, refugees and displaced populations. Roundtable discussions followed that addressed the need for ICN members to form coalitions to take immediate action and advocate for adequate resources and support for health-care providers on the front lines.

Posters, concurrent sessions, panels and symposiums showcased nurse-led practice and policy initiatives from around the globe. Close to 8,200 nurses attended, joined by international health experts and government officials, to exchange ideas, build relationships and explore solutions to common problems. Among them were more than 150 Canadian nurses and nursing students.

“Hearing about others’ work is so productive,” said Shellian. “It’s an opportunity to bring other people’s work home.”

The CNA team also included director of Policy, Advocacy and Strategy Carolyn Pullen and senior nurse advisors Lisa Ashley and Josette Roussel. CNA’s presentations and posters provided insights for attendees on the national action plan for home care, the national nursing framework on medical assistance in dying, the updated code of ethics, the impact of clinical nurse specialists in the health system, strategies for fostering integrated care and Canadian models for advanced nursing practice.

Pullen said her conversations with attendees indicated that many national nursing associations aspire to achieve the level of influence CNA has at the federal government level. In many parts of the world, broadening the scope of practice of RNs and nurse practitioners and having the leadership potential of nurses recognized are formidable challenges.

“Our participation in this congress has informed CNA’s work in upholding Canada’s commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Pullen. Speaking more broadly about the benefits of these events, she said they provide opportunities to expand CNA’s network of international contacts, strengthen the relationship with ICN and collaborate on identifying programs in which Canada can take the lead. “It’s all about developing alliances, and I believe there is a good balance between what we give to ICN as a member and what we get in return.”

On the closing day of the congress, via Skype, WHO’s director-general elect Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus reiterated his commitment to collaborate with ICN to ensure that nurses are included in policy-making processes and to have a senior-level nurse on his team.

ICN acknowledged the service of Judith Shamian, whose four-year term as president was ending. Shellian delivered a personal message to Shamian from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who acknowledged Shamian’s leadership and Canada’s contribution to the work of ICN.

At the CNR meeting, Canadian Lisa Little was elected to the ICN board. Annette Kennedy from Ireland is ICN’s new president.

Singapore will host the 2019 congress.

Q&A with ICN past president Judith Shamian

In May, as Judith Shamian was about to step down as president of ICN, Canadian Nurse asked her to reflect on her four-year term and the experience of leading an international organization.

What have been your biggest challenges as president?

The biggest challenges were to enhance the awareness of nurses and others about the role ICN can and should play in strengthening global health and the contribution that the nursing profession makes to the health of people. Furthermore, it has been a huge challenge to enhance policy impact at the local, national and international arenas using nursing knowledge and experience.

What have been your biggest achievements?

The biggest achievements are on several fronts: during my presidency, the ICN board became much more engaged with our 130 plus national nursing associations (NNAs). We also have been able to support many of our NNAs by advocating for the right policies at the government level. Finally, we have forged new relationships with global organizations such as the World Bank and the UN. Serving on the UN High Commission for Health Employment and Economic Growth as the voice of the health professions has demonstrated the recognition of the importance of nursing and ICN.

How has ICN changed?

ICN as an organizational entity has been undergoing a major restructuring and modernization to reflect 21st-century innovations in communication, systems and performance. The role of the board as a leadership board also has been accomplished during this presidency term. ICN is increasingly becoming the go-to organization for other global organizations.

What has assuming leadership at the international level taught you? What has surprised you about the role?

The presidency reinforced the importance of relationship building, face-to-face meetings and the essential element of being with people and organizations in their own milieu to gain better understanding of their reality. It has been fascinating to see how the term nurse is being used in all countries but that it means so many different things. I continue to be surprised and concerned by the limited policy engagement and influence nurses have on the shaping of health and health-care systems.

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