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We set out to document what nurses think about nurse leadership and the gender-related barriers they face at work. Here's what they had to say.
“Most people don't understand that nurses can be leaders,” says Alice Boit, a nurse and facility-in-charge in Nakuru, Kenya. “Most people may just understand that leaders are doctors, clinical officers, and others like that.”
A year ago IntraHealth set out to document what nurses like Alice think about nurse leadership, and the barriers they face in rising up in the profession. We already had a global view, from our Investing in Nurse Leadership: What Will it Take? report with Nursing Now and Johnson & Johnson. We wanted to spotlight one country's context.
So in the time before mandatory face masks and lockdowns, and just weeks before the WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, IntraHealth staff traveled throughout Kenya to interview nurses at different levels of the profession.
We asked 29 nurses what they would recommend to improve the status of nurses in Kenya and, as 76% of nurses in the country are women, how to combat gender-related barriers nurses face. Read what five women nurses had to say, from the most senior nurse at the Ministry of Health to a young nurse in a remote dispensary:
Many of the issues these nurses highlighted are similar to the findings in our global report, including that societal perceptions of nursing as a “feminine profession” are barriers to women nurses’ advancement as leaders and to the status of nurses as a whole. And that female nurses have to juggle responsibilities both at work and at home.
Of course, a lot has changed since we interviewed these nurses, but the global pandemic has shown just how important nurses—and nurse leadership—are to responding to disease outbreaks, maintaining essential services, and reaching universal health coverage.
The world was already facing a shortage of six million nurses before the COVID-19 pandemic, mostly low- and lower middle-income countries. The International Nurses Council reports an increase in nurses leaving the profession during the pandemic, and estimates up to 13 million nurses will be needed in the next few years. And still, nurses are not adequately represented in leadership roles, including on COVID-19 response teams, where they can guide health policy and investment.
The nurses we interviewed had several recommendations for overcoming gender-related barriers to nurse leadership that are still relevant today, including:
READ what nurses in Kenya say about leadership and gender-related issues in Investing in the Power of Nurse Leadership: Kenya Spotlight Brief.
All photos by Patrick Meinhardt for IntraHealth International. All work related to this documentation project and the Kenya brief funded by a grant from Johnson & Johnson Foundation.
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Read what nurses in Kenya say about nursing leadership in Investing in the Power of Nurse Leadership: Kenya Spotlight Brief. Twenty-nine nurses, nursing students, and nurse policy leaders shared their personal experiences including gender differences in advancement, juggling paid and unpaid work, decision-making authority, and mentorship.