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  • 10 May 2013
  • 9 min read

The International Council of Nursing and you; learning, legislating and networking

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    • Clare Fisher
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  • 462

Bringing an uncompromising, global and holistic stance towards the state of modern nursing and its response to health issues, the ICN have sought to represent nurses globally for over 100 years. Read on to find out what they can do for you as nurse, student, trainer and employer.

Undoubtedly, you’re familiar with the Royal College of Nursing and the Nursing and Midwifery Council; with the latter responsible for registration and the former representing nursing staff across the UK, they’re hard to miss.

But are you familiar with the international bodies?

Did you ever stop to wonder who was responsible for the standardised nursing language you likely use or who helps each country’s nursing bodies to actually talk to each other, share knowledge and keep up to date?

The primary body responsible for global nursing strategy is the International Council of Nursing (ICN). It’s a great resource for nurses who really want to extend and stretch their professional development and demonstrate a true commitment to nursing. Formed over 100 years ago, ICN aims to promote both the well-being and status of nurses and to influence policy globally and nationally.

The federation is made up of national nursing associations from 135 countries. Each nursing association chooses a National Representative and together, they meet as the Council of National Representatives every two years.

So, what do the ICN want to achieve?

This Council strives for the best representation, influence and networking available to nurses worldwide with three main goals and five core values.

Their three goals are “to bring nursing together worldwide, to advance nurses and nursing worldwide and to influence health policy”; their five values are “Visionary Leadership, Inclusiveness, Innovativeness, Partnership and Transparency”.

And their campaigns and projects truly reflect these values: when you take a moment to look around their site, it is clear that the ICN takes an uncompromising, global and holistic view on health issues, working to ensure quality nursing care for all, sound health policies globally, the advancement of nursing knowledge, and the presence worldwide of a respected nursing profession and a competent and satisfied nursing workforce.

For instance, they take a clear and refreshing stand on female-related health issues calling for effective legal frameworks to combat violence against women and for countries to ensure adequate reproductive/sexual health information and maternal advice are available.

They also call for gender equity in education and empowerment and, most importantly when it comes to female gender-related issues, for all aspects of health provision and management to recognise that most of the causes of women’s suffering are rooted in social, cultural and behavioural systems.

Examples of more general health practice call-outs range from sanitation to migration to research to HIV/AIDS to elder care with each area detailing the legislative, practical, social and environmental needs for each area to succeed meaningfully.

Overall, the ICN want to demonstrate and see nursing as a properly respected profession; raised above wiping brows and carrying lamps and clear that it is one of science, rigour, research and value.

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How can nursing achieve this?

Strong leadership (ideally by nurses themselves), good networking between all stakeholders, sound education and proper recognition of nurse management success are also considered fundamental needs for the profession.

Projects like the Wellness Centres for Health Workers and the Nurse Politician Network to improve the number of women and nurses in politics are part of this drive.

Modern nursing also needs the maintenance of a reflective and competent practice with regulatory bodies, continued professional development and strong regulation with high standards, policy participation, accountability and recognition.

A central ICN campaign is that of their Regulation Network which has a credentialing forum for networking, tools, consultation and advice to national nursing associations (NNAs) alongside regular monitoring, certification and the promotion of data collection to establish good foundations for data-driven research.

They also want to see a defined scope of practice with reference to care-giving, research, teaching and advocating alongside a dynamic response to public need.

Importantly, to back up the development of a defined, reliable role, they want to protect the title of nurse with it only applied to those legally authorised to represent themselves as nurses and to practice nursing.

But most crucially for you, dear reader, is how they approach issues surrounding nurse employment.

And, by gum, do they approach this area across the board!

The list below is by no means exhaustive and I would suggest you research further on their website once you’ve finished reading here.

Professional Practice support

Their first relevant ‘Pillar’ is Professional Practice with campaigns surrounding Nurse Leadership, online nurse support via their Telenursing Network and The Connecting Nurses initiative.

Nurse Leadership is encouraged and developed through programmes to stimulate knowledge, negotiation skills and a Leadership Institute for networking and information sharing. Four-year leadership programmes have been run in nearly every continent over the past two decades to help nurse associations develop better communication, project management, negotiations, media management and influence of nursing policy.

To aid this, the online networking resources (such as the Nursing Education Network, Telenursing Network and Connecting Nurses Initiative) create a space where nurses can come together globally to share information and experiences to strengthen all nurse relationships.

For those in rural areas without online technology, there is a mobile library for access to recent publications.

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Socio-Economic Development

The Socio-Economic Welfare pillar concentrates on nurses being treated well and properly – this is emphasised through their International Centre for Human Resources in Nursing (ICHRN) project, Leadership in Negotiation programme (detailed above), Workplace Violence in the Healthcare Sector and Workforce Forums programmes.

Tied to the Professional Practice concerns for a respected nursing profession and a competent and satisfied nursing workforce, the ICHRN project serves to educate nurses, HR departments, trainers and educators about the detrimental effects of underinvestment, underemployment and haphazard planning in nursing structures.

This programme focuses on data-driven research, resource provision for all concerned parties, policy analysis, evaluation and promotion of good HR practice, research and innovation via good planning, good data and good practice.

Another facet of this calls to ensure that assistive nursing (i.e. HCAs) is deployed responsibly and productively to prevent dangerous fragmented and inefficient service.

A further key theme of better nurse socio-economic status is the Workplace Violence in the Healthcare Sector report, developed with the International Labour Office, World Health Organisation and Public Services International.

It is thought that nearly a quarter of workplace violence takes place in the health care sector and may affect more than half of healthcare workers.

The report covers prevention, management and mitigation of workplace violence in the healthcare sector as well as information on supporting affected workers for HR and management.


The third ICN pillar is regulation. ICN works closely with nurse regulators around the world to ensure that educational and practice standards and competencies are the best they can be.

This is done through the Credentialing and Regulators Forum, the ICN Observatory on Licensure and Regulation, the ICN, ICN and WHO Triad meetings and the regulation network.

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How can the ICN help me?

The ICN’s remit covers a mass of areas and whether you’re training, working, campaigning for better treatment at work, undertaking CPD or studying for a post-graduate degree, you’ll be able to find a project or information resource relevant to you.

We’d recommend you start with the ICN's Pillars & Programmes and then dip your toes into their online forums to see recent topics of interest.

Whilst these forums aren’t as populated as some you’ll find, the content is high-quality and stimulating.

The website is also a great way to find out what your colleagues around the world are experiencing, and the ICN’s international development projects can provide you with a direct involvement in on the ground projects impacting global health issues.

Let us know what you thought on our Facebook page – we’d especially love to know the topics you found most interesting.

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About the author

I believe people should be able to choose to enjoy work. That is, choose an employer who reflects their values and provides them with a sustainable career.

    • Clare Fisher
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