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Helping Nurses in Kenya Achieve a Public Image That Reflects Their Scholarship and Professionalism

Negative perceptions hinder the recognition of key contributions made by nurses to healthcare delivery and leads to demotivation of staff, negatively affecting access and quality of patient care.
Nurses Walk on a Corridor at South Lake Medical Centre.jpg Nurses Walk on a Corridor at South Lake Medical Centre.jpg

While nurses worldwide have developed themselves into professionals through education and innovation, the public image of nurses does not always match their professional image. Nurses still suffer from gender stereotypes and the nursing profession is often perceived as low-skilled, low-prestige and poorly paid, requiring little academic training and easy to enter.

In Kenya, where a shortage of nurses persists, such negative perceptions have hindered the recognition of the key contributions made by nurses to healthcare delivery, especially in areas that are remote, rural and underserved. Additionally, it has led to demotivation of staff, lack of equitable remuneration, poor deployment practices and unclear career progression for nurses—all of which negatively affects quality of patient care.

In 2019, with support from Johnson & Johnson Foundation, the Johnson & Johnson Center for Health Worker Innovation joined forces with long-time partner Aga Khan University School of Nursing and Midwifery (AKU-SONAM) to convene key stakeholders, including Kenya’s Ministry of Health the Nursing Council of Kenya, nursing associations, academic organizations and funders to explore ways to alleviate the challenges facing the profession in Kenya. The launch of the Nurse and Midwife Alliance in Kenya in August 2021 following those discussions represented a turning point for the nursing profession, establishing a platform to convene nurse cadres in the country and facilitate professional growth.

The alliance has proved a formidable force in successfully and regularly bringing together health professionals, health sector stakeholders, donors and other partners who are working to improve education, professional development, standards, regulation and terms of service for nurses and midwives. The culmination of these efforts resulted in the development and launch of a first of its kind National Policy for Nursing and Midwifery last year.

Now ministry-approved and recognized, the new policy seeks to ensure that these healthcare professionals benefit from continuous professional development, fair pay and fulfilling working conditions. It also aims to increase recruitment, deployment, retention and motivation for nurses and midwives, thereby improving access to quality health services across the country.

Uplifting the image of nursing in Kenya’s health eco-system

Building upon the successes of the alliance, the Center and AKU-SONAM, with support from Johnson & Johnson Foundation, are currently working together to convene stakeholders in the nursing profession in Kenya to improve the image, the self‐concept and the professional identity of nurses in the Kenyan context. This renewed effort aims to reinforce the public’s understanding of the critical role nurses play towards primary healthcare and overall contribution to achieving universal health coverage.

The project is designed to help nurses develop strategies to achieve a public image that reflects their scholarship and professionalism and to ensure that nurses are adequately supported, recognized and celebrated for the critical work that they do, every day. Grounded in the guiding principles embodied in the Kenya Health Sector Human Resource for Health Strategy and working in partnership with appropriate local governing bodies, regulators and other entities, the project seeks to address gaps that impede workforce progress for nurse cadres and focus on advocacy strategies and approaches with the greatest potential to result in better support and recognition of the nursing profession. This includes giving nurses a voice through media campaigns and storytelling, and recognizing nursing professionals who serve their communities beyond the call of duty.

Ultimately, by improving perceptions of nurses and maximizing their contributions, the project aims to enhance availability, accessibility, acceptability, coverage and quality of the nursing cadres in Kenya and to ensure equitable access to quality healthcare across the country.