The persistent crisis facing human resources for health in low-income countries demands innovative solutions to relieve constraints that include severe shortages, an inappropriate skill mix and maldistribution of personnel. The global response to focus on nurses, who form the greatest proportion of the health workforce, is the right step towards easing the urgent shortage of health workers.
In the most affected regions of sub-Saharan Africa and south-east Asia, the responsibilities of nurses have increased in line with expanding health services to meet local, national and global health targets, including the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. Studies evaluating health outcomes where this task-shifting approach is used have shown that nurses can provide high quality care safely, but only with adequate training and proper organizational support. (1,2) Unfortunately, without a comprehensive model for professional nursing practice, nurses cannot reach their potential in transforming health services delivery where it is most needed.
Professional practice models are systems (structures, processes and values) that support giving nurses more control over the delivery of care and their working environment. (3) These models encompass five essential building blocks: (i) professional values, (ii) patient care delivery systems, (iii) professional relationships, (iv) management approach, and (v) remuneration. Professional values refer to a nurses' duty to promote and restore the health of individuals, families and communities while upholding fundamental human rights, respect and dignity for all. (4) Without a firmly embedded regard for basic human rights, the patient is no longer central to all care-related decisions. A patient care delivery system includes the process of assigning responsibility for patient care; coordinating the nursing unit; delegating clinical decision-making authority; and communicating patient-related information. A clear definition of roles and functions is central to establishing nurses' professional identity. Professional relationships are the inter- and intra-professional exchanges that occur within multidisciplinary health-care teams. Patient care is improved when nurses are granted full status to collaborate on an equal platform with other members of a multidisciplinary team. The management approach includes support for organizational decision-making. Lastly, compensation schemes include tangible remuneration, such as salaries and bonuses, as well as intangible acknowledgement, for example recognition for achievement. Structuring an environment in which nurses derive benefit from both extrinsic factors, such as financial incentives, and intrinsic factors, such as personal gratification from delivering patient dare, is essential for sustaining retention and enhancing recruitment, particularly in underserved areas. (5,6)
Endorsing a professional practice model requires providing all nurses with autonomy over their own practice and a single standard of education for entry into practice. These traits, along with possession of a robust body of knowledge, recognition as a science, pursuit of education at the highest academic levels, dedication to the service of others and subscription to a code of ethics, constitute the hallmarks of a profession. …