Underpaid, burnt out and unappreciated! This summarises the life of most nurses. There are over three million registered nurses in India. That might sound like a lot. However, when compared to the country’s billion-plus population and growing number of diseases and people who need medical care, these figures are concerning.

Nurses around the world paid the ultimate price of caring for people during the pandemic. While hundreds lost their lives, thousands became sick themselves. And those who escaped the physical symptoms of the illness did not necessarily escape the physical and mental toll of working long hours under all circumstances. It’s time we strengthen our future with our nurses. They should be fully engaged with other health professionals and assume leadership roles in redesigning care. Over the last few years, nurses have gone beyond just services that were offered during world wars. They have become integral to modern healthcare.

A FICCI report last year indicated that nursing is becoming less desirable as a profession and is witnessing increased migration to foreign countries, which has left India to face one of its worst shortages of nursing staff in recent years. My worry is, why can’t we as a country create this ecosystem for them here. At Cloudnine, we created a platform for nurses to perform their duties by offering them leadership roles; to become nurse practitioners by allowing them to perform roles suited for registrars (doing daily ward rounds with consultants), perform procedures under guidance regularly (like giving BCG vaccines), undertaking new-born screening on babies. We have also created a “telephone triage” where anxious new parents could call and clarify doubts in the first few days of their newborns. This nursing triage has made a huge difference. With high maternal mortality, for a country like India nurses can play a huge role if a midwifery programme is well implemented and audited.

With India currently in a state of transition — economically, demographically, and epidemiologically — health is a priority sector for the State and Centre. The value of nurses in both preventive roles and disease management has been proven in many healthcare settings. India needs its nursing profession to develop, grow, and contribute in these efforts to address new health challenges.

(The writer is Founder Chairman and Neonatologist, Cloudnine Group of Hospitals. He is also a healthcare delivery graduate from Harvard Business School. Views are personal.)